5 Wise Mind Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

The holidays are supposed to be fun, right?

But most people experience some level of holiday stress . This can be caused by the demands of shopping for gifts, attending social gatherings, and coping with the inevitable memories that are brought up by the holiday season.

Here are a five Wise Mind Living tips to help you cope with stressful situations during the holidays.

1. Set realistic expectations and keep things in perspective.

Most of us find ourselves faced with too much to do, too much to buy and not enough time or money for everything we think we should be doing. Decrease your stress symptoms by not saying yes to everything.

Be realistic about your plans. Before saying yes, ask yourself if this is really something you’ll enjoy or if you’re simply going because you feel obligated. And remember that holiday parties are supposed to be fun.  But if you’re experiencing social anxiety, read this post to learn how to overcome it.

When it comes to managing holiday financial stress, it’s important to set a realistic spending limit and stick with it. Don’t just hand over the credit card each time you make a purchase. Using cash will force you to be mindful of the financial choices you are making.

The bottom line is that with all of the choices you have to make this holiday season, it’s important to step back and check in to make sure you’re making Wise Mind choices and not Emotion Mind choices.

2.    Create a new tradition

This goes along with setting those realistic expectations. If your life doesn’t look like the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture  let go of the expectations that you should be having a holiday filled with picture perfect family experiences. Really, whose does anyway?

Create your own unique traditions that fit your life as it actually is.  If you don’t have a family or are too far away to see them, invite others into your home and create a new tradition of celebrating with your “extended family.”

No one to invite? Why not find a place to volunteer your time and help people who have less than you do.  Helping others is one of the best antidotes for self-pity and the holiday blues. It also helps us remember the real meaning of the holidays.

3.    Take care of yourself, both physically and spiritually

Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to start working on those resolutions of taking better care of yourself.  Do it now to help you deal with stress from the holidays.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating in a balanced way and getting some exercise. These are three of the best ways to manage the physical aspects of stress no matter what time of year.

You will be amazed at how making a little effort in these three areas can lift your mood and give you more energy for managing the stress of the season. Go to bed early at least once a week, take a little walk at lunchtime and be sure to drink plenty of water.

In the midst of all your holiday busyness it would also be helpful to create a little space for yourself to sit quietly and just breathe. Several times throughout your day, stop whatever you are doing and just tune in to your breath and your body for one minute. This is one of the best stress relievers you can do anywhere.

If you notice any tension in your body, try to release it. Imagine that you are breathing in relaxation and breathing out tension.  Let this relaxation time be a little gift you give to yourself this holiday. You might also try doing my relaxation practice at bedtime to clear your head and help you get a good night’s sleep.

4.    Grieve

If the holidays remind you of an important person you’ve lost, a time in your life you miss or even choices you regret, allow yourself to cry, remember and mourn.

Pushing away these feelings doesn’t make them go away.  Take out the photos or listen to “your song,” and then try to think of the good times you had or the lessons you learned as a result of the painful experience.

Remember that Wise Mind Living means allowing and acknowledging your emotions with compassion and gentleness.

Sharing with someone else that you are dealing with grief and sadness can also help (read about the 8 emotion families here).  Letting the people who love you know that the holidays are hard for you gives them the chance to support you—and even if they don’t know exactly what to do, just knowing that they care can help.

5.    Forgive

The holidays offer the perfect time to consider letting go of that grudge you’ve been holding or settling that conflict that you’ve been avoiding.

Forgiving that selfish thing your friend did months ago or the ways you feel your parents have let you down isn’t easy. But loosening the grip anger and resentment have on you, even just a little bit, can make a huge difference in your overall quality of life.

Most people get hung up on the idea that forgiveness means letting the other person off the hook. Instead, try thinking about forgiveness as something you’re doing for yourself – not something you’re doing for the other person.

Research shows that people who forgive feel happier, are physically healthier and have stronger and more meaningful relationships.  In fact, forgiveness boosts kindness and connectedness in general.  People who are forgiving are more likely to volunteer and more likely to give to charity. So what better time to try to practice forgiveness than during the holiday season?

How are you handling your stress this holiday season? Please leave your comments below.





  1. Kristan Flynn December 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    This is helpful advice. I like the Wise Mind vs. Emotion Mind distinction. The approach you recommend is generally how I try to live my everyday life. However, the holidays are tricky for me because I feel less in control due to all of the other people in my life, whom I want to see at this time of year but they seem to be invested in holiday madness. Whether it is shopping, ticking off everything they have accomplished i.e. baking 10,000 cookies, coats for the homeless, a hand knit scarf for everyone they know, a professionally styled and shot Christmas card, etc. I guess what I am asking is how to engage with people as connection is supposed to be the hallmark of this time of year without getting sucked in to their holiday dynamic

  2. Toby Williams December 18, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Thank you, Erin. Number 5, on forgiveness, is very much on my mind these days. What a nice way to think of this around the holidays…giving a gift to myself…a gift a releasing a major resentment..for Xmas! Happy Holidays to me! I am also big on not saying “yes” to everything. One more for me this year…letting myself make my own holiday traditions since I am the one hosting the family this year. I can’t take care of everyone’s needs. Certainly, I can’t control for everyone having a good time by trying to anticipate everyone’s feelings. So, I’m letting go and going for it!

  3. Erin Olivo December 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks for your comment Kristan. It can be so hard at the holidays (or anytime, really) to be around people who push our buttons or whose “stress” seems to be contagious. One of the strategies that can be most helpful in minimizing the impact of these irritating situations is to practice mindful acceptance.

    Developing a “Teflon Mindset” is an acceptance practice that you can use in any distressing situation. In this practice you try to step back a little and simply observe your experience, and then actively decide not to get pulled into it, to not let it stick. You’ll notice as you try it that taking the stance of an observer allows you to be slightly detached but still interested and engaged. Some of my patients have come to think of this mindset as the “News Reporter Mindset,” where you’re gathering the facts but trying not to become a part of the “story.”

    This practice isn’t about tuning out. It’s about forming an intention to tune in to your experience exactly as it is without judging, or pushing anything away and without grabbing on to any of it either. When you approach a distressing situation from this slightly detached stance it can feel less impactful and create less suffering.

    So the next time you find someone is pushing your buttons, try to get into observer mode and say to yourself, “I’m letting this bounce right off me like Teflon,” and move on.

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