Manage Holiday Stress

Our tips and tactics can help you keep calm and carry on.
Published December 17, 2017


Gift shopping, office parties, high-pressure family dinners—let's face it, the holidays can be as stressful as they are merry. According to Mark Gorkin, a psychotherapist and public speaker who goes by the moniker "Stress Doc,” the four Fs of holiday stress are *fantasies, family, food,* and *finances*. "The temptation is to want it all," he says. People often get so caught up in the eating, drinking, partying, and shopping, he adds, "that there is no time for spiritual reflection and quiet nurturing."

These tips from Gorkin can help you stay grounded amid the hustle and bustle of the season:

*Just say "no"* Be realistic about how many parties you can actually attend—or want to. Remember that saying yes to every invitation can lead straight to not-so-merry burnout. Also, going to tons of parties means an overload of party food.

*Stay in your groove* Carve out time for yourself—and greedily guard it. If you have a fitness routine, try to stick with it; aim to arrange holiday chores and events around your schedule, not the other way around.

*Take baby steps* It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of holiday tasks, like sending out 114 holiday cards. Certain tasks are more doable when broken into chunks. For example, you could write a few cards at a time over the next few weeks, downsize your list, or send e-greetings (eco-friendly and fast!). If you have kids, enlist them to stuff envelopes and put on the stamps!

*Appoint a "designated nagger"* Give your partner or a close friend permission to call you on it when you start worrying too much. Ask them to remind you to slow down, take a deep breath, and do a reality check about whatever’s stressing you out: overeating, skipping a workout, not finding the perfect gift for everyone down to your boss's cat. 

*Have a “holiday draw”* Sit down with your family and discuss the sources of stress and conflict that always seem to rear up this time of year. Then hand out crayons and paper, and have everyone draw pictures of your "family stress image"—a big ogre wearing a Santa hat or a giant present exploding like a firecracker, for example. "This is a great way to get out your frustration in a positive way," says Gorkin.

*Take a lavender break* Light a lavender-scented candle in your bathroom and take a hot bath, or use lavender-scented bath oil. A study on lavender found that the scent helped people feel more relaxed and (bonus!) do mental calculations more accurately than other scents did.

*Walk it out* Head to a peaceful park or woodland (without your phone) and focus on breathing in the crisp winter air or watching snow falling— it can actually be a form of meditation. It’s also a positive way to re-energize—fatigue can make you snappish, cranky, and definitely low on holiday spirit. 

*Stroll down memory lane* Fill a hatbox or shoe box with objects that are important to you, such as your child's first tooth, family photos, inspirational poems or quotes. Keep it Whenever stress looms, take out your box and enjoy the warm feelings your mementos inspire.

Slow Fast Food

This time of year, the slow cooker takes a bow—you set up the ingredients in the morning, head off for your day of holiday to-dos sandwiched between work, wrangling the kids, laundry—and come home to a kitchen filled with delicious aromas and dinner ready to eat.