How to Handle Holiday Stress

By Carollyn Mushro

For most Americans, the idea of the holidays not only brings up some excitement and fond memories, but also anxious feelings related to family expectations or interactions. In fact, 88% of adults report feeling stressed according to a study-- particularly about where to spend the holidays and how much money to spend on gifts.

When we pair our modern lifestyles with the strain of the holiday season, stress probably can’t be completely avoided, but it can be managed. If left unchecked, stress can have a major impact on our immune systems - which is the exact opposite of what we want during the Fall/Winter season. Our body needs all the help it can get!

Not all stress is bad though - if it weren't for stress, our body wouldn't know how to react in certain life-threatening situations.  We also usually perform better when we're under stress. But living in a state of chronic stress that lasts for months at a time can have adverse reactions.

Chronic stress can:

∙ Weaken your immune system

∙ Increase risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease

∙ Contribute to aging

∙ Contribute to weight gain and digestive disorders

∙ Affect your mood and relationships

∙ Contribute to addiction

∙ Increase pain

∙ Affect sexuality and reproductive function


So, let’s talk about how we can make a plan to avoid those outcomes!

Tip 1-- Stick with a wellness routine 

Are you sleeping well?

Are you eating right?

Are you exercising?

Are you prioritizing self-care?

The key to staying healthy and reducing the effects of stress is taking care of yourself and staying consistent.  Not eating properly, not exercising, not getting enough sleep - all of that puts physical stress on the body. Then, when an emotional stress like holiday family squabble occurs, that molehill can seem more like a mountain if our bodies are already taxed.

What about that bath that your mom always reminds you to indulge in when you’re stressed? As it turns out, this could hold the key to relieving stress, after all! Many women are deficient in magnesium, which can literally reduce stress hormones. By adding Epsom salts to the bath, we can absorb magnesium transdermally (through the skin) to help combat overactive stress hormones.

As an added bonus in the tub, go ahead and add a few drops of your favorite therapeutic-grade essential oil. It's amazing what smelling an uplifting aroma can do for your body and brain.  Studies have shown that smells have instant psychological and physiological effects.  Which means...add it to your bath AND carry your favorite calming essential oil around with you.  When you start to feel stressed, try breathing it in deeply while you practice some deep breathing or prayer.

Tip 2-- Make a list and check it twice! 

No, we don’t have to list who was naughty and who was nice this year. (But, hey, if that helps, go ahead!) Instead, try a brain dump. Grab a pen and paper and write out everything that is cluttering that beautiful mind of yours. Just like it is distracting to live in a cluttered house, it is also difficult to have a cluttered mind and expect to not feel bogged down by the heaviness of it. 

Once you write it all out, add a few more nagging items that you’re still debating about writing down. And lastly, don’t forget to write a “NOT to do list,” too! This list will include things like:

-Don’t try to compete with the holiday lights show that the Joneses put on next door

-Don’t say yes to social events that don’t bring me joy

-Don’t try to create Pinterest-worthy cookies if it’s not in my wheelhouse

By creating a “NOT to do list,” you can create boundaries for yourself and establish expectations long before they arise as an issue. But they only work in your favor if you keep these simple promises to yourself.

Tip 3-- Lower expectations & be positive

Much of our disappointment in life stems from unmet expectations of how we believe someone should behave or how a situation should turn out. If we know in advance that things won’t be perfect and mishaps will likely occur, we can better deal when they do happen. Know the toddler will need a nap at grandma’s house? Bring the pop-up sleeper. Have a feeling that dish you’re making for the first time could flop in the oven? Buy ingredients for a backup plan. Are you fairly confident that Uncle Bob will bring up mud-slinging politics again? Practice smiling and excusing yourself to check on the dinner rolls well in advance.

As hard as it can be, it is important to have a positive perspective if you are looking to properly manage expectations. We often see exactly what it is that we have set our minds upon, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Focus on the thoughtful gift gesture instead of the awful aroma of yet another cheap candle. Zone in on the delicious ham as opposed to the burnt turkey still in your oven. Spotlight the smiling faces and the laughter instead of the fussy baby. What we fixate upon will multiply….make it something positive!

About the Contributor

Carollyn is a wellness enthusiast living in the Chicago burbs with her husband and two children.
She loves inspiring families to find their own healthy journey through holistic modalities.
She loves kombucha, travel, and questioning the status quo.
You can find her on IG: @carollyn.mushro