5 Ways to Stay Sane During the Holiday Season, According to a Therapist

Melting down faster than Frosty the Snowman? Try these tips.

It's the most wonderful time of the year—except when it isn't. While the holidays can be a magical time, with twinkling lights everywhere you look and the excitement of gathering with friends, family, and co-workers to celebrate the season, it can also feel chaotic and overwhelming. (Who can't relate when Beverly D'Angelo, in the holiday classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, says, "I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery!")

According to the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men feel an increase in their stress level around the holidays. We asked Laurie Poole, MS, a therapist and licensed professional counselor with The Montfort Group in Dallas, Texas, to share some insight about holiday stress and how to manage it. Read on for her tips on how to keep calm and carry on this holiday season—and even enjoy yourself while you're at it.

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Keep it simple.

Holiday season. Upper view of stressed stylish housewife in sparkle gold sequin santa hat sitting on sofa in the modern living room at Christmas tired of the holiday bustle.
Alliance Images / Shutterstock

If you have a streak of perfectionism in you, the holidays are sure to bring it out.

"A common holiday stressor for many is trying to meet expectations you think will make everyone happy, whether that's a flawlessly decorated home, beautifully staged holiday tables, or perfectly wrapped presents," says Poole, who explains that easing up on your Type-A tendencies can make for a merrier holiday season.

"We are not Martha Stewart! And what friends and family remember in the end is how they felt during the celebrations," she says. "So it's best to keep it simple, ask for others to pitch in, and don't put that pressure on yourself."

Go with the flow.

Mixed race, multi generation family gathered in kitchen before Christmas dinner, grandfather and grandson preparing roast turkey in foreground
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

"Another holiday stressor is being with family," says Poole. "We may look forward to being with relatives—though some may dread it—but the anticipation of it all can be stressful."

Poole has several solutions for mitigating family-induced stress: "Create memories through new experiences everyone can enjoy," she suggests. "Or just try to go with the flow and let events transpire naturally, without forcing activities. Don't forget to take a deep breath if you feel the tension rise, or even go for a quick walk outside! And if necessary when staying with family, limit your time if things go south after two days."

READ THIS NEXT: Cutting Salt From Your Diet Can Slash Stress, New Study Says.

Give your wallet a rest.

Shopping online during holidays. Man using laptop computer and credit card, ordering Christmas gifts. Shopping, internet banking, store online, payment, surprise, spending money, holidays concept
Kite_rin / Shutterstock

For many of us, opening our credit card statements in January is even more stressful than navigating holiday gatherings. "Finances are another area that can be a huge source of stress throughout the holiday," says Poole. "Overspending and racking up credit card debt often comes from a fear of disappointing others, yet you end up paying for it (literally) in the months to come."

She suggests trying something other than traditional gift-giving: "For many, there is nothing better than the gift of yourself with your time. You can also try setting spending limits for the entire family, or creating a challenge to make or craft your gifts instead," she says. "With a little creativity, there are many ways to let loved ones know you're thinking of them without compromising yourself. It truly is the thought that counts."

Watch your alcohol intake.

A glass of whiskey on wooden bar with holiday lights behind it
SOMKID THONGDEE / Shutterstock

When the holiday pressure mounts, it's tempting to pour yourself a stiff eggnog (or three), drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine, or stress-eat an entire tray of cookies. But this strategy is likely to backfire, says Poole.

"Holiday stress can be exacerbated by alcohol and food hangovers," she cautions. "And when those filters come down, so, too, do common courtesies or goodwill, often causing arguments. Moderation is key for ensuring you wake up feeling good and not regretting anything that was said the night before."

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Say "no" when you need a break.

Man's feet in warm socks with large mug of hot chocolate and murshmallows near fireplace. Cozy Christmas evening
Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock

If you've ever dealt with a child having a tantrum, you know that time-outs can work wonders. So next time you feel yourself nearing a nuclear meltdown, try giving yourself one. "With so much planned and expected during the holidays, saying yes to the invitations, requests, and socializing can be stressful," says Poole. "Try to set boundaries for yourself, and say no when your head and heart are not aligned."

And don't skimp on sleep, either, she says—even if you have a pile of gifts to wrap and a holiday dinner to plan. "Make it a point to also get your rest," Poole adds. "Afternoon naps or downtime can help to recalibrate during the busy holiday season."

Elizabeth Laura Nelson
Elizabeth Laura Nelson is the Deputy Health Editor at Best Life. A mom and a marathon runner, she’s passionate about all aspects of health and wellness. Read more
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