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How to Manage Holiday Stress

The holidays can certainly be a joyful time with family gatherings that consist of laughing around a crackling fireplace, decorating a tree, singing carols, and enjoying delicious food. Of course, the holiday season isn’t always like an idyllic Hallmark movie either. For many people, the holiday season is downright stressful. 

However, that doesn’t mean you have to just power through it. There are ways to help you manage some of that holiday stress so that you can make it to the new year a little more refreshed and relaxed.

What Causes Seasonal Stress?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), about two in five Americans1 say their stress levels increase from November to January each year. Further, nearly nine in 10 Americans2 report that at least one aspect of the previous holiday season caused them stress. 

It may not surprise you, but finances are the number one worry for most people, closely followed by the stress of finding the right gift.2 Below, we’ll go over some of the most common causes of stress during the holiday season. 


Over half of U.S. adults feel stressed during the holidays because of finances. More specifically, they’re concerned about spending too much money or not having enough money.2 

The APA found that this was especially true for households earning under $50,000 annually compared to households earning more than $100,000 annually.1 


40 percent of adults in America are stressed about gift-giving during the holidays.1 This might include worrying about getting the right gifts for people, having enough time to buy gifts, the anxiety of shopping in crowds, or taking the time to ship them. 

Family Time 

Depending on your relationship and proximity to your family, you might experience family stress during the holidays. For 38 percent of Americans who can’t be with their loved ones during the holidays, this shows up as stress around missing their family.1 

Of course, you might be one of the people who spends a little too much time with your family during the holidays, which can also lead to major stress. The APA says that 22 percent of American adults experience stress around anticipated family conflict during the holidays, and 30 percent are stressed with the pressure to make the holidays feel special.1 


For many people, the holidays are packed with outside expectations such as work parties, holiday functions, demands from family or friends, and a lack of downtime.  More than 30 percent of American adults report feeling stressed about having too much to do during the holidays.1 

Celebrating Different Holidays

People who don’t celebrate mainstream American holidays may have fewer stressful social demands, but instead, these folks may feel left out and underrepresented during this time. 

According to the APA, nearly one in five American adults who celebrate traditional Jewish or other non-Christian holidays report feeling stressed because the holiday season doesn’t reflect their culture. The fear of potentially being discriminated against during the holiday season worries 42 percent of Jewish people and 55 percent of other non-Christians.1 


According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the busiest travel days of the year are usually the Tuesday and Wednesday3 before Thanksgiving and then the Sunday after. The days leading up to Christmas and just after New Year’s are also some of the busiest in the airport.3 

Roads also get clogged with traffic during the holidays, with some of the worst days to drive being December 23 and December 284. Transportation chaos can create a high level of stress, with 19 percent of people reporting holiday stress due to travel.1 

Social Media

The time off from work or school during the holidays can mean more time to peruse social media. There is mounting research5 showing that spending time on social media negatively impacts our mental and even physical health. This has to do with comparing ourselves to others, distorting reality, feeling excluded from fun experiences, and distracting us from our own emotions.5 

The seasonal uptick of people posting “perfect Hallmark holiday” content can certainly be a recipe for comparison, envy, and stress. 

Eating and Drinking too Much

Holiday stressors can have us turning to small comforts to feel better. More than 15 percent of Americans say that they change their eating habits during the holidays (by either binging or restricting), and 13 percent say they increase their use of alcohol or nicotine to cope with the stress.1

Unfortunately, these small comforts may help momentarily, but they add to long-term stress by increasing levels of cortisol6

How to Manage Your Holiday Stress

Talk to Someone

Talking about how you feel can help manage negative emotions7. Further, talking to someone who cares about how you feel can help build a stronger bond between you both.7

According to the APA, 70 percent of people feel comfortable discussing their holiday stress with family or friends, though only 41 percent of those people actually do so.

Don’t Numb Your Feelings

As mentioned, some people may turn to alcohol, excessive eating, or additional screen time to manage holiday stress. Although these coping mechanisms might work to numb the underlying feelings for a while, experts say8 that pushing feelings down can cause them to come back and even worsen. 

Manage Your Expectations 

Basing your holiday expectations on movies and social media can lead to disappointment. Instead, try managing your expectations. 

There will probably be conflicts and not everything will go smoothly. During these times, remind yourself that it’s okay if something doesn’t go perfectly. Also, remember that social media posts, even from friends and family, are just the highlights. 

Limit Social Media Time

Limiting your social media time during the holidays may not only help manage your expectations but also free up time for healthier activities. For example, going for a walk, journaling, reading, exercising, or talking to a friend can refresh and sustain you.  

Be Mindful of What You’re Eating and Drinking

When we’re stressed, the body craves foods high in sugar and fat9, and these sorts of foods can cause weight gain and increase the stress hormone cortisol. Alcohol has also been shown to increase cortisol levels.6 

Limiting the amount of sweet, carb-laden treats and alcohol over the holidays can allow you to enjoy holiday goodies without the guilt that comes from overindulging.

Stick to Your Sleep and Exercise Schedule

Sleep is the foundation10 of our mental and physical well-being. It’s not just about getting enough sleep, though; it’s also important to get consistent and regular sleep.10 

In the same vein, exercise improves physical and mental health, and it is one of the greatest tools for managing stress11.

You might be tempted to go to bed late and skip your workouts during the holidays, but instead, try to stick to your regular sleep and exercise routines to keep your health in check.

Prioritize What’s Important

It may be helpful for you to sit down and come up with a list of priorities before the holiday season.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What do I want to accomplish this holiday season? 
  • Who do I want to spend my time with? 
  • How do I want to feel? 

Getting clear on your desires before the holiday season may help prioritize what’s important when invitations start coming your way. 

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries may mean saying “no” to activities that don’t align with your priorities during the holiday season. 

This may also mean setting boundaries with family or friends you’ll be spending time with. One of the big stressors people face during the holidays is “anticipating conflict with family.”1 By setting important boundaries, you could help prevent a conflict. 

Take Time for Yourself

If you’re the type of person who’s always putting others before yourself, this one is for you. Instead of saying “yes” to everything that comes your way, ask yourself first, “Do I really want to do this?” “Will this nourish me?” Just pausing long enough to answer questions like that is a good start. Then, say yes or no from there. 


Volunteering or being of service to others releases dopamine12, which reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings. During the holidays, 16 percent of Americans choose to volunteer, which helps them reduce their stress levels.1

Volunteering can also give people a greater sense of meaning and appreciation – not to mention it can improve the lives of those you’re helping. 

Get Outside  

Getting outside into green spaces can help reduce stress levels13. Of course, depending on where you’re located, it may be colder outside during the holidays. However, cooler temperatures may help you relax since hot weather14 is more likely to cause feelings of stress, anger, and irritability. 

Practice Mindfulness 

One of the best ways to implement more mindfulness into your life is by adopting a daily meditation routine. The APA recommends meditation as a way to reduce stress and anxiety.13

You might also practice mindfully relaxing each of your muscles, one at a time. To do this, lie on your back on a flat surface. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so. Then, focus your attention on one group of muscles at a time. You’ll inhale and contract the muscles for five to 10 seconds and then exhale slowly, consciously relaxing the muscles and releasing tension. Start from the bottom of your body and work your way up. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How can I control my holiday stress?

There are many ways to control your stress during the holidays, but in general, we recommend sticking to your regular healthy habits as much as possible and, if necessary, introducing some extra self-care. For example, stick to your normal sleep and exercise schedule, consider talking to a friend or family member, and take time to journal or meditate. 

Is it normal to feel stressed during the holidays?

Yes, it is totally normal to feel stressed during the holidays. Close to 90 percent of American adults report feeling stressed at least at some point during the holidays.1

Why do the holidays make me anxious?

For many people, the holidays cause anxiety because this time of the year can be filled with social expectations and anxieties, financial and family stressors, loneliness, pressures to eat or drink, and more. 

Natalie Grigson

Natalie Grigson


About Author

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

Side Sleeper


  1. “Even a joyous holiday season can cause stress for most Americans”. American Psychological Association. 2023. 
  2. “Infographic: Causes of stress during the holiday season”. American Psychological Association. 2023. 
  3. Baran, Michelle., Berg, Bailey. “These Are the Busiest Travel Days of the Year, According to TSA”. AFAR. 2023. 
  4. Diaz, Aixa. “115 Million Americans Expected to Travel over Christmas, New Year’s”. Automobile Association of America. 2023.
  5. “The Social Dilemma: Social Media and Your Mental Health”. Mass General Brigham Hospital. 2024. 
  6. Ranieris, Joseph N. “Alcohol and Cortisol: How Drinking and Stress are Related”. Discovery Institute. 2023. 
  7. “Talking About Your Feelings”. Nemours Kids Health. Webpage accessed April 4, 2024.
  8. Bucher, Emily. “Why it’s important to ‘feel’ all of your feelings”. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 2020.
  9. “Why stress causes people to overeat”. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. 
  10. Ramar MD, Kannan., et al. “Sleep is essential to health: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2021. 
  11. “Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress”. Mayo Clinic. 2022. 
  12. Thorseon, Angela. “Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering”. Mayo Clinic Health System. 2023. 
  13. “11 healthy ways to handle life’s stressors”. American Psychological Association. Last updated October 31, 2023. 
  14. Shalchi, Homa. “Excessive heat and its impact on mental health”. Baylor College of Medicine. 2023.