Carnegie Mellon University

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November 29, 2023

CMU=You Wellbeing Series: Holiday Stress

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The festive period is not exactly known for its peace and quiet. In fact, many studies over the years have shown that December is the most stressful time of the year for both businesses and individuals. Whether you engage in big holiday celebrations or you enjoy the festive period a bit more low-key, this time always comes with a certain amount of pressure. You want to make everyone happy, but you also want to be able to enjoy the holidays yourself. It doesn’t help that on social media it looks like everyone has perfect, flawless holidays, which can make us feel like we’re doing something wrong when our festivities don’t go as smoothly.

Although it’s perfectly normal to be busy and a bit nervous this time of year, you deserve to enjoy the holidays without feeling anxious. We have 13 tips to help you embrace the festive vibes and avoid the stress!

  1. Plan ahead and don’t let your calendar get too busy.
    A couple of dinners here, after-work drinks there, meeting up with friends … before you know it, your calendar is full and you wish you hadn’t made so many plans. You don’t have to meet up with every single friend or family member in one month. To avoid getting socially burned out, only say yes to things that you really want to do and schedule days where you don’t meet up with anyone.

    Family and friends don’t always live around the corner from us, so for many people December means traveling. Try to make your travel plans as early in advance as possible to avoid feeling overwhelmed because too many things are happening at one. That way you can also prepare for the costs that come with it and avoid the stress in the moment.
  2. Schedule relaxation time.
    No matter how long your to-do list is, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Don’t sacrifice the things that make you feel happy and relaxed. So if a short walk or a long bath helps recharge your batteries, make time for that and don’t feel guilty about it. If necessary, you can schedule an hour of you-time in your calendar so you really do it.
  3. Try mindfulness exercises.
    If you find it difficult to take a couple hours off from your tasks, start by taking a moment to reset. Sit down, mind your breathing and let your thoughts wander for a couple of minutes. These short breaks give your brain a break and help you see things from a different perspective.
  4. Get into the festive spirit.
    When you’re focused on all the things you still need to do, it can be challenging to get into the festive spirit. A couple of little things can help you get there. Burn candles with a scent that makes you feel cozy, put on a holiday playlist or treat yourself to a nice advent calendar.
  5. Respect your emotional, financial and social boundaries.
    This is especially difficult if you’re a social butterfly. Of course you want to meet up with friends and family and celebrate together. But if you’re not careful, a packed calendar will burn you out and you’ll be wishing you had taken it easy. Moreover, the costs of all of these socials, dinners and get-togethers really add up. Instead, try to ask yourself if you really want to go to that event. You can also make a list of who you want to meet up with during the holiday period and try to prioritize those people.

    Remember that just because other people are doing certain things doesn't mean you have to do them too. Use the holiday season to recharge rather than letting it drain you. If you have difficulties expressing your boundaries, try setting a couple of rules for yourself. These can be financial, social or emotional limits.
  6. Take a break from the news.
    Consuming news rarely makes us feel better, especially during the holiday season. Take a break from bleak stories by changing the channel, listening to music or reading instead of scrolling through news websites. Also try to not start scrolling on your phone the second you wake up. Enjoying those first moments of the day without distractions can set the tone for the rest of your day.
  7. Check in with friends and family.
    This is a hectic time for most of us, so don’t forget to check in with friends, family members and strangers. By focusing on helping other people, our own worries become less powerful. Having an open conversation can take away a lot of the stress you both may be experiencing.
  8. Keep your daily rituals.
    If there are little things you do throughout the day, don’t stop doing them just because you’re busy preparing for the holidays. By still doing the things that you like, you stay calm and centered. So if you’re used to reading before bed, going for a walk around lunch or having a cup of tea every morning, keep doing those things.
  9. Do things that mean something to you.
    It can be tempting to do something because you feel like you have to, or because you think it’s part of the festive period. However, if you and your loved ones are not really enjoying those things, there is no reason to still do them. Scratch the annual ballet or change the fancy menu and only do things that you thoroughly enjoy.
  10. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to entertain others.
    You’re having people over to celebrate the holidays and you want everything to be perfect. You might even want to impress them a little bit. We get it. However, keep in mind that your guests just want to have a good time. They will understand that hosting is expensive, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

    It’s all about being together, so you can even suggest that everyone brings a dish or a bottle of wine. Or instead of a full five-course dinner, opt for a cocktail party with drinks and appetizers. You will also enjoy the party a lot more than when you’re working in the kitchen the whole night.
  11. Shop online.
    Maybe you enjoy doing your festive shopping in real life, but for many of us it’s a very chaotic and stressful activity. Escape the crowds and heavy bags and order everything online. Shopping could not be easier!
  12. Remember what’s important.
    With so many things to do, we often lose focus of what the holiday season is really about. What matters this December is that you enjoy the things you like with the people you love. Don’t worry if not everything goes flawlessly; that’s part of the experience. As long as you are having a great time, your loved ones will too.
  13. Choose quality time over money
    Sure, it’s nice to get presents, but for most people the thing they crave the most during the holidays is quality time with the ones they love. By actively spending time with each other rather than trying to squeeze a handful of visits into one day, you will make people feel a lot more valued than with a gift. If you can’t physically be together, try to schedule a video call, or send them a card and thank them for being in your life. It’s a cliché, but it really is the thought that counts. Connecting with others will make you feel a lot more relaxed than having to worry about a list of gifts you need to buy.