When you think of the holidays coming up, do you feel a little stressed out?
If so, you’re not alone. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that nearly half of all women in the U.S. experience “heightened stress” during the holidays—the type that puts their health at risk.
In another survey of 2,000 adults, 77 percent said they have a very difficult time relaxing during the holidays, and usually end up feeling more stressed and worn down than ever. A third survey found that six out of ten people feel pressured to overspend on presents, travel, social outings, and charitable donations.
This year, to help you reduce the stress and experience more joy, we’ve put together this Holiday Self-Care Guide. You’ll find tips on physical, emotional, mental, and financial self-care, all presented here in the hopes of helping you to ease the pressure on yourself.
Holiday Physical Self-Care Tips
1. Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
It’s really easy to gain weight over the holiday season. A pound or two probably won’t hurt you, but the problem is that whatever we gain over the holidays often stays with us forever, and after a few years, those pounds can add up.
You don’t have to deprive yourself, but if you want to maintain your weight, try these tips:
- Stay active: It’s easy to spend more time sitting and less time moving over the holidays, particularly if you live in a cold climate. Try to find ways to move throughout the day. Encourage your family to go for a walk or build a snowman.
- Keep portions small: It’s easy to overload your plate at holiday dinners, but eating larger portions leads to weight gain. Use a smaller plate and take less. Tell yourself you can always go back for seconds, then give yourself at least ten minutes after clearing your plate before you go for more food.
- Drink more water: About 30 minutes before a meal, drink a full glass of water. It will help you feel full and eat less.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep drives hunger hormones. Try to keep your regular bedtimes and wake times through the holidays.
- Focus on protein: Holiday meals are often rich in carbohydrates and low in protein. Eating more protein will help you feel fuller longer, so focus on the meat, poultry, fish, and beans, while going easy on the mashed potatoes and stuffing.
- Limit liquid calories: The holidays are a time for cocktails, which in general, are high in calories. Treat yourself now and then but stay mindful of how many empty calories you’re adding to your diet.
- Weigh yourself daily: This is the best way to stay aware of your weight. It’s a lot easier to pull back and lose one pound than to wait until a couple of weeks later to discover you have five pounds to get rid of.
2. Stick to Your Exercise Routine…No Matter What!
Exercise works miracles. It gives you energy, helps you shed stress, and makes it easier to avoid weight gain. It can also boost your mood and help you sleep. In fact, if you do only one thing differently this holiday season, keep to your exercise routine. It can make a big difference
If you’re away from your usual gym or equipment, substitute walking, running, or YouTube workouts to get you through.
3. Perform an Active Stress-Relieving Activity Each Day
Whenever you undergo a stressful period, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These can cause damage if they stay in your body for too long, so it’s important to do an active stress-relieving activity every day.
To maintain a healthy level of stress, choose a stress-relieving activity you enjoy and make time for it every day. Here are some good examples:
- Yoga or tai chi
- Spending time with a pet
- Simple stretching
- Deep breathing
Holiday Financial Self-Care Tips
1. Set a Per-Person Shopping Budget
Rather than decide an overall budget for the holidays, break it down into how much you’ll spend on each person. The more detailed you are, the better. That can help you avoid overspending and having a clear plan will relieve shopping stress.
2. Plan Your Gifts Ahead of Time
It’s super easy to overspend if you simply “go looking” for gifts. You’re more likely to stick to your budget if you plan what you’re getting first. You’ll be more focused when you shop and less likely to be drawn into other “deals” that can encourage you to overspend.
3. Cut Back in Other Areas
You may be worried about spending more on the holidays, but you can counter that by planning to cut back in other areas. Where can you spend less? Maybe you can dine out less often, make coffee at home rather than getting that morning latte before work, carpool to save gas, or cut ties with some of the subscription services you’re getting now.
Reducing your expenses in other areas for a couple of months can go a long way toward relieving holiday financial pressure.
Holiday Mental Self-Care Tips
1. Eliminate One Activity
There’s so much to do over the holidays! We rush to shop, prepare for visitors, cook meals, travel to see loved ones, check-in on the neighbors, and more.
All this extra “doing” is one of the main reasons stress runs so high over the holiday season. You can take it down a notch by eliminating one activity from your “to-do” list at least once a week.
Scratch just one thing off the list and you’ll see—your mood will instantly improve.
2. Schedule a Weekly “Tune Out” Day
The news and social media is a frequent stressor for many people. You don’t need that extra stress during the holidays, so schedule at least one day a week where everyone in the family agrees to tune out—no news and no social media.
Sunday is a great day for this. Have everyone put their phones in a box, keep the television off, and engage in other activities. Read, play board games, put puzzles together, or go outside and play. These types of activities will help you feel more relaxed and can also help you find joy in family time.
3. Clear the Clutter
Clutter weighs on our minds. Research has shown that the more clutter you have in your home environment, the higher your stress hormone levels and the higher your anxiety.
You may not have thought about using the holidays as an excuse to clear some things out, but why not? It will likely reduce your stress and make you feel better. After all, no matter what else is going on, if you come home to a clean, spacious area, that’s bound to be a good thing.
Holiday Emotional Self-Care Tips
1. Schedule Time for You
It may feel odd to do so, but during the holiday months, try scheduling at least 30 minutes for yourself into your daily calendar. We always “hope” to have time to relax and enjoy ourselves, but the truth is, if we don’t schedule it, it probably won’t happen.
Don’t leave it to chance. Treat your self-care time like an important appointment, then use it to do something that makes you happy. If you do this regularly, you’ll find it pays off during those stressful holiday weeks.
2. Write a Daily Gratitude List
What are you grateful for? It’s easy to forget when you’re in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, so start keeping a daily gratitude list. Simply take five minutes first thing in the morning or the last thing before bed and write down five things you’re grateful for.
Research shows that gratitude increases good-mood serotonins in your brain, which can defend you against stress. Just thinking about what you’re grateful for protects you emotionally, and helps you maintain a positive attitude through the holidays.
3. Give Up Expectations
One of the reasons we experience stress over the holidays is because we expect things to go a certain way. We’re bombarded with messages of how “perfect” the holidays are supposed to be, to the point that we can struggle if our experiences don’t live up to these polished images.
Realize that no holiday is “perfect.” As noted in the surveys at the beginning of this article, most people struggle over the holidays for one reason or another.
Instead, give up your expectations of having the perfect family, the perfect tree, the perfect meal, the perfect party—whatever it is—and simply open yourself to experiencing the joy of the moment.
The more you can do this, the less stress you’ll experience, and the more likely you’ll be able to relax during the holidays.
Digestion problems can spoil any holiday dinner. Learn how to prevent digestive issues here.
Anderer, J. (2019, December 22). Jingle Bell crock: 88% of Americans feel the holiday season is most stressful time of year. Study Finds. https://www.studyfinds.org/jingle-bell-crock-88-of-americans-feel-the-holiday-season-is-most-stressful-time-of-year/
APA. (2006, December 12). APA survey shows holiday stress putting women’s health at risk. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/women-stress
Garcia, A. D. (2019, November 13). Holiday brings spending stress for most Americans, survey reveals. Bankrate. https://www.bankrate.com/surveys/holiday-gifting-november-2019/
Saxbe, D. E., & Repetti, R. (2009). No place like home: Home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(1), 71-81. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167209352864