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7 Tips to Smooth Over Your Holiday Stress

7 Tips to Smooth Over Your Holiday StressAhh, the holidays. Christmastime is here, and many will be traveling this week to rejoin loved ones and family members. We’ll be traveling too, as we often do during the holidays, to visit with long-distance family.

Wouldn’t you like your holidays to be a bit smoother? Me too. So here are some tips to help smooth over your holiday stress and make this time of the year more enjoyable for you and those you’ll be visiting.

1. Plan early.

Well, it’s a little late for this one. If your trip isn’t yet planned, I can’t help you. But this is good information for next year, as sometimes people wait until the last minute to plan their travel or where exactly they’ll be and when, when visiting the family. These tips can also help you reduce stress about holiday travel.

I think people get into trouble here not with forgetting to plan, but forgetting to plan the important things. Who’s family will you be spending Christmas eve with? Christmas morning? When will you see Aunt Phyllis? Sure, you can let all of this work itself out at the last minute, but the more you set expectations ahead of time, the less stressed you’ll be (and the less likely it’ll result in some unexpected family drama or hurt feelings).

Planning also means being specific and direct with those you’ll be visiting with. Say, “We’ll see you Christmas day around 2 pm and we’ll be happy to join you for dinner!” rather than, “Well, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing, let me call you on Christmas and let you know.”

2. Let things roll off your back.

So what if the presents aren’t wrapped perfectly? So what if the turkey is dry (or burnt!)? So what if you forgot to pack your nice shirt or the shoes that match your dress?

We spend an inordinate amount of time — especially around the holidays — stressing about small details while missing the bigger picture. I don’t believe the mantra that “it’s all small stuff,” so you shouldn’t stress about anything. But pick your battles. If you’ve wasted all of your stress energy on the fact that the potatoes were a little overcooked, you may not have any reserves left to go bail Uncle Andrew out of jail when you get an unexpected phone call from the local police.

Little things, big things. Pick the one you want to really expend that energy on. Because believe it or not — you have a choice about what you let affect you. If you want to stress about the potatoes, that’s your choice.

3. Make time for things that matter.

Spending quality time with your friends and family at this time of the year might be the most important thing to you. Or perhaps it’s shopping for them. Or perhaps it’s making Christmas dinner. Or perhaps it’s planning your awesome New Year’s Eve party.

Whatever your passion, whatever it is that matters most to you in this life, make time and focus on it. We often spend so much time focused on others during this time of the year, we often forget to take a few minutes — even if it’s just a few! — for ourselves.

4. Be aware of and plan for your triggers.

The holidays can be especially difficult for those with eating concerns, whether it’s binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, or just plain old over-indulging (in both food and/or drink). As we recently noted, holidays can be perilous times for overeaters.

Your best tools to combat these concerns is planning ahead of time, limiting your time spent exposed to these kinds of triggers, and enlist the aid of a trusted family member or friend to act as your eating (or drinking) buddy to ensure you stick to your healthy eating and drinking behaviors.

5. Try and keep the Christmas spirit in mind — even if you don’t celebrate it.

You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate and enjoy the Christmas holidays. But if you don’t have any particular affiliation with Christmas, you can always help others who do — by offering to volunteer to cover a work shift, babysit, or even volunteer at a local food bank or such. While for some it’s about the specific Christmas holiday, others celebrate the spirit of giving and selflessness.

Whatever you do, try to remember the reason you’re making the trip, visiting with family, or taking time off of work. It’s not to drive yourself to an early death, it’s to share in quality time with your fellow human beings.

Research also shows that by giving to others — such as making a donation to charity or to your church — makes people feel better. So if you want to lift your spirits a bit this Christmas, make sure you give to your favorite charities.

6. Avoid over-committing.

Too many people over-commit their time, energy or efforts at this time of the year. Ooops! Despite our wishes otherwise, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week. We can’t be everywhere at once, and contrary to popular believe, you cannot always do everything you want to do.

Prioritize your commitments and responsibilities to others, putting the things that matter most first. If your family comes first (as it does for most), make sure that’s reflected in how you spend the next week. If there’s any time you can take more time off work (unless you happen to be in retail, sorry!), it’s the next two weeks.

7. Spend some time in reflection, mindfulness, and spirituality.

Whether or not you’re religious, all of us should at the very least be mindful. Being mindful simply means spending some time in contemplation and reflection to better understand what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. We instantly react to a family member’s familiar stinging criticism with defensiveness, without thinking about our response. Take a minute to consider what they said and consider answering in a more noncommittal, or even in a completely opposite manner.

If you’re a fan of Seinfeld, think of the “Opposite George” episode, where George Costanza decides he’s just going to start doing everything the opposite of his usual self would do (see video clip below).

I’m not sure we all have to do the complete opposite of what we are doing today, but it is beneficial to consider some of the motivations behind our automatic actions and reactions to others. Make a commitment to be more mindful, to really think about what it is others are saying, and make an effort to not just re-act, but act in a way that is the result of at least a moment’s consideration.

Other Holiday Coping Articles

Opposite George:

7 Tips to Smooth Over Your Holiday Stress

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2019). 7 Tips to Smooth Over Your Holiday Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 22 Nov 2019 (Originally: 20 Dec 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 22 Nov 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.