Three Tips for Surviving Holiday Stress

By Warren Holleman
Revised December 2016.

Album_The_Andy_Williams_Christmas_Album_coverAccording to one of the great crooners of yore–and a widely held popular belief—it’s “the most wonderful time of the year!” And why not? “With the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer!'”

That does sound wonderful. And, there’s more! “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow.” It sounds like we’ll be having a ball! And that’s why it’s . . . “the hap- hap- happiest season of all!”

What a great singer (Andy Williams), what a great song, and what an iconic statement of our cultural aspirations for Christmas and Hanukkah. But is it true? Is this really such a wonderful time?

For many of us, the winter holidays, and the days leading up to them, are the most stressful time of the year. It’s the time when we feel hurried and harried. When we do lots of scurrying and worrying. When we spend half our time rushing and the other half sitting in traffic.

What can we do to reduce the stress? Here are three suggestions.

1. Focus on the meaning of the season, not it’s material trappings.

What do Christmas and Hanukkah mean to you? A time to reflect? A time for gratitude? Joy? Peace? A time to be with family and friends?

Here’s my suggestion: Take some time right now to figure out what the season means to you. Plan ways to experience that belief this holiday season, and throughout the year.

To me, the meaning of the season is that God became flesh and lived among us. All of us, and especially those on the margins of society. On the margins? You bet! Take a typical manger scene, remove the Arabs, immigrants, and refugees, and you’ll have an empty manger scene. So, if I’m looking for God today, I need to hang out with those who are being pushed to the margins by politics or prejudice.

Others may choose to focus on their own deep feelings, such as joy or gratitude. Or our world’s deep yearnings for peace on earth and good will to all. Yearnings for redemption or reconciliation.

Wherever you choose to focus your belief, that’s your reason for the season.

2. Identify your worst holiday stressors, and plot strategies for busting them to pieces.

For many people, the worst holiday stressor is a to-do list that’s a mile long. For others, it’s the people you have to be around for such long periods of time. You know, the ones who think Donald Trump is going to save America . . . from idiots like you! Or the ones who think the world revolves around football. Or the stock market. Or Pokemon, for that matter.

For some, the worst holiday stressors are places and traditions that trigger negative memories. For others, it’s the dreaded weight gain from all those desserts and heavy meals. And the guilt and shame that follow.

Most of us have multiple holiday stressors–plus all the other everyday stressors we experience year-round.

It’s unrealistic to think you could eliminate every holiday stressor. Instead, pick one. Just one! And make a solid plan to bust the hell out of it! Once you have success in one area, you’ll have confidence to take on other areas.

Last night I realized that one of my holiday stressors is being stuck in traffic. I was headed to a holiday dinner, and it took me thirty minutes to drive two miles from my office to the restaurant. Then another thirty minutes to find a parking place. After my usual orgy or frustration and anger, I decided to redeem the time by figuring out a better strategy for next year. And it worked! I decided that next year I’ll park two miles away and walk! That way I’ll spend my time doing something I enjoy, and I’ll arrive with a quiet mind and a body primed for a holiday meal.

3. Do something bold and positive for your own health and well-being.

Most people I talk to say they hate the way they feel after so much sitting and eating and watching TV. Many others—especially introverts—say they become emotionally exhausted from all the socializing they’re expected to do. Then there are those who have an in-law who irritates the hell out of them and turns their holiday cheer into sheer torture.

IMG_0019_2If you are faced with one or more of these challenges, here’s a bold, positive solution: Set aside three hours every day to go for a long walk. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve got no excuse. You’ve got thousands of gorgeous trails to choose from, like this one on Dog Mountain, near the Washington-Oregon line. But even if you’re like me and live in a not-so-gorgeous place (southeast Texas), you can still enjoy a number of benefits. Here’s a partial list:

  • Three hours of blissful solitude
  • (Or, if you go with a friend, three hours of quality time together.)
  • Sunshine and Vitamin D
  • Fresh air and a change of scenery
  • Deep breathing
  • Time to reflect on the reason for the season
  • A healthier heart and stronger muscles and bones
  • A more resilient immune system
  • Burn 1000 calories
  • Improved sleep
  • The satisfaction and self-esteem of having walked 10 miles
  • And, this time of year, you won’t even have to watch for rattlesnakes! (Except for those with arms and legs who might be lurking at your family get-together.)

You’ll arrive home ready to face the food, the people, and all the activities that you’re supposed to enjoy over the holidays. If people ask why you’re doing this, just say that it’s something you have to do for your health. Or that you used to spend three hours a day watching a football game or a movie, and this year you decided to try something new.

I hope these tips have been helpful. This year, be as good to yourself as you are to others. Give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to reduce the stress and experience the joy and the love–the real reason behind the season.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my “holiday stress” series. Let me know which topics you’d like me to address, or send me your own stories and tips, and I’ll post them.
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  1. Frances - December 24, 2015 @ 7:20 am

    I love this Warren!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your writing!!!! So happy you showed a picture of dog mountain- how did you know about this spot? It’s one of my husband’s favorite mountain bike trails! Happy holidays and new year to you and family!!!! With much love!

  2. admin - December 24, 2015 @ 4:13 pm

    Hi Frances! My wife and I visited 2 years ago and fell in love with this place. I can see why your husband likes it. Beautiful vistas and we were also there at the right time for the wild flowers. We walked up the steep parts and jogged the rest. There is nothing like this in Texas.

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