5 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

Follow our psychologist’s tips for a more peaceful holiday season.
Family of four walking on a snowy forest trail.

The holidays are here! That’s the good news. The bad news is that they leave us feeling stressed or exhausted or both. This year can be better, says Mark Frayne, PsyD, of UVM Health Network – Porter Medical Center’s Primary Care practice. Here he shares five steps to reduce your holiday stress. 

1. Get Outside and Go for a Walk

If you feel tension building, step outside and set your focus on the beauty around you. What’s the first tree, shrub or holiday decoration you see? Studies show that being outside reduces our heart rate and lowers cortisol levels—the hormone that makes us feel stressed. Plus, walking is one of easiest, and cheapest, ways to deal with stress. Maintaining healthy habits over the holidays is your best defense against holiday stress. So rather than gathering for yet another meal or more cocktails, stay connected with friends, family and neighbors by asking them to join you for a walk. 

2. Make A Plan, But Be Flexible

When calendars are full, setting intentions can help you regain a sense of control. Give yourself permission to relax and think about what is most important to you and your family. Then make a plan to do it. But remember: Plans may change for reasons you may not anticipate, such as weather, travel or illness. If your best laid plans go awry, let them become a holiday memory or a story you can laugh about at next year’s gathering. 

3. Make Your Own Joy

Whether you enjoy baking, playing games or volunteering in your community, make time for an activity that fuels you rather than drains you. Doing good deeds and regularly practicing gratitude helps your body release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin – the “feel good hormones” – to counteract that stress-inducing cortisol that can build during the holiday season.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Give yourself permission to say no. If you find yourself dreading a certain holiday activity, take the opportunity to pivot and begin a new tradition.

Share your thoughts about holiday plans with partners, family and children to avoid confusion or false expectations. Talk about finances and expectations around gift giving and charitable donations by planning a budget together. 

5. Keep It Real

The holiday season presents a lot of pressure to make meaningful memories. Limit your exposure to social media that portrays fantasy-like scenarios that are rarely based on the complexities of most people’s lives. Above all else, keep the holidays in perspective.

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