How to Avoid Stress at the Holidays this Year

Exhausted and overwhelmed woman packing Christmas gifts

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It’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many the run up to Christmas can be a stressful time. Pressure to buy amazing gifts or even spending time with family can cause stress at the holidays, with social media making us feel like we need the ‘perfect’ Christmas.

In fact, a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that nearly 1 in 4 respondents felt extreme stress at the holidays, with 69% stressed about a lack of time and lack of money.

In this blog, we look at the main causes of holiday stress and ways to avoid it impacting our lives!  

Woman calculating expenses for Christmas gifts at home. - stress at the holidays
Woman calculating expenses for Christmas gifts at home. - stress at the holidays

Causes of stress at the holidays

There are a number of reasons to feel stressed over the festive period. These can include:

  • Financial strain
  • Pressure around gift giving and receiving
  • Broken relationships/family drama
  • Loss of a loved one
  • The need to travel
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Splitting time amongst relatives
  • Cooking

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Symptoms of holiday stress

Stress can take a number of different shapes and is different for everyone. Whilst some stress can actually be good for us, too much of it can cause us mental and physical issues.

Mental symptoms

  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Periods of mania (extreme highs and lows)
  • Easy to anger
  • Increased alcohol/drug use
  • Mood swings

Physical symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tightly wound up
  • Overly emotional

Anybody can have one or multiple of these symptoms to varying degrees. If they become overwhelming, we recommend speaking to a professional like a GP or doctor to help .

Tips to avoid stress at the holidays

Stress over the festive period can be managed with sufficient planning and preparation. Below we list our top tips on relieving the burden associated with the holidays for a more enjoyable, relaxed experience.

1. Plan in advance

Whether your stress is caused by seeing family, buying gifts or an event, it can be handy to plan in advance. Use a calendar or lists to help plan what needs to be done and when so there aren’t any unexpected surprises.

2. Set a budget

Christmas can be a costly time, with 28% of people surveyed going into debt during the festive season. Spare yourself the financial stress by setting yourself a budget before you splurge on those Christmas goodies.

Calculate your essential expenses (like utility bills, council tax and rent) and deduct these from your income to work out your budget. Remember that January needs to be factored in too, especially if you have a credit card!

Set realistic budgets with family and friends too – they may be trying to save the pennies too during the cost of living crisis!

3. Learn to say no

With secret santas, work parties and social engagements galore, it can be easy to get overwhelmedin the run up to Christmas. Remember that it’s OK to decline invitations if it’s going to cost you’re your mental health!

4. Avoid conflict

For many, seeing family can cause stress at the holidays. Past conflicts or differences in opinions are potential for arguments. Reduce their impact by planning ahead. Write down a list of topics you’d like to avoid and pre-prepare responses if they come up. Also, let go of any conflicts that have happened previously – this will be much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Sometimes being under one roof can also highlight any relationship tensions. If so, why not look for alternative accommodation when visiting relatives to allow you that ‘safe space’ to retreat to after a long day of socialising.

5. Take time for self care

During the festive period, don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Self care is extremely important for reducing stress and keeping yourself grounded. We’ve drawn up some self care ideas if you get stuck.

Self care also means looking after your physical health. It’s so easy to overindulge on food and alcohol during Christmas which is fine in moderation, but try not to overdo it! Regular exercise, good sleep and a healthy
diet can help you feel less sluggish and do wonders for your mental health too!

6. Limit social media

They say comparison is the thief of joy and this is very much true over the holiday season. Social media can make us think we need the ‘perfect’ Christmas, best food or lots of people around us but that isn’t true! Try not to compare what you have by limiting your use of social media.

During the holidays, plan activities rather than sitting inside watching TV. Even just a short walk can help us feel invigorated and better connected. 


Whilst the holiday period is often filled with pressure, remember that it’s also a chance to relax and recharge. Be kind to yourself and remember that you aren’t alone! There will be plenty of other people who feel the same way that your do and going through similar situations.

Hopefully with our helpful tips, you can make this holiday season as stress-free as possible!

If your mental health is struggling, a list of free and confidential helplines can be found here.

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