The holiday season is, in theory, filled with joy. Extra treats, holiday events, parties, and much more can fill our days with joy — every single day of the month.

The problem with all this joy is that we tend to overstuff ourselves. Creating fun means extra time, work, and money for gifts, decorations, holiday party food, outfits to wear, cards to send, hostess gifts to pick up … you get the idea. For many, the holiday season isn’t a month filled with joy but rather a whirlwind of activity and “don’t forget tos” that turns into a blur. By December 26 you’re just glad it’s all over.

Holiday stress may sound like something made up, but it’s real. A study from the American Psychological Association found that a perceived lack of time and money combined with the pressure to have fun, buy gifts, and do more often leads people feeling anxious. Women tend to feel the most anxiety because they bear the brunt of project managing all this fun. But parents, too, are feeling the stressors as they worry about creating magic for the kids, often while also caring for their own aging parents. This stress can affect the brain, according to an article by Harvard Medical School researchers.

“Because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to a greater number of responsibilities than usual, the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive,” the article says.

Here are some ways to make your holiday season about more joy — not more stress.

  • Say “no” to some activities. Creating a magical holiday season for your family doesn’t mean doing or going to every single activity. You might bake Christmas cookies one year but skip it this time. You might see The Nutcracker or Disney on Ice one year and then never go again. That holiday party you attend out of obligation? You don’t have to go just because you went last year. Ice skating? Go in January. Take a look at your calendar and choose which activities make sense for you this year, and which don’t.
  • Ask for help. Delegate that last-minute trip to the grocery store to your partner if possible. Ask grandparents to assist with gift buying. Ask people to send you gift ideas to make it easier to shop. Hire someone to help with holiday decorating or have food catered if you’re hosting a party. Depending on your kids’ ages, you might have them pitch in with holiday fun; they might even enjoy it!
  • Find ways to make it easy. Cary Professional Organizer Janice Russell offers several ideas or hacks to make things easier. For example, you might skip sending holiday cards or send electronic ones to save time. You might combine efforts with a friend to host a holiday party. Decorate simply, with your favorite items only. Choose to give fewer gifts this year. (Bonus: give gifts that are experiences, not stuff.) Create a checklist for your holiday activities and items each year or find one online.
  • Take a break. Make sure your December calendar includes some downtime, evenings when you can sit on the couch and admire your holiday decorations or play board games with your kids.
  • Consider meditation. If your mind is a whirlwind, especially when trying to sleep at night, consider meditation. There are apps now to help you pause, relax, and focus on your breathing. This type of daily timeout is shown to make people feel less anxious and more focused throughout the day.
  • Keep (or start) exercising. Exercise will help keep the stress at bay, as well as those extra holiday calories!

If you’re feeling stressed this holiday season and it’s making you feel unwell, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for help!