Holiday Stress

Holidays to stress over

With Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s right around the corner, getting focused on the holidays can bring up a swirl of conflicting emotions.  Are you holiday stressed?  Do you:

  • imagine indulging in special holiday foods like stuffing, sweet potato casserole, latkes, brisket, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, chocolates, and cookies but at the same time fear the extra weight that results?
  • get excited about going shopping but figuring out what gifts to buy everyone on your list makes you break out in a cold sweat?
  • love hosting family holiday dinners but dread the time you’ll have to spend menu planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning?

Holiday Stress and Your Body

These conflicting emotions push your buttons and raise your cortisol levels triggering the fight or flight reflex.  Cortisol is the body’s master stress hormone, which works to control your mood, motivation, and fear.  If the holidays increase your stress levels too much, cortisol keeps the alarm button on and you can experience anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain, difficulty sleeping and more.

The holidays have not even started but already you feel overwhelmed.  What can you do to stay centered and healthy during the holidays?  How can you prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for the busy season of holiday celebrations?

The Source of Your Stress

Holiday stress relief with Marsha Friedman

You need to discover the source of your stress. Start by figuring out where your stress is coming from.  As you think about the upcoming holiday season, how do you feel?

  • overwhelmed with all of the to-dos on your list?
  • frustrated that things may not go according to plan?
  • concerned about the weather affecting travel plans?
  • anxious that not everyone will get along?
  • dread seeing some or all of your family?
  • disappointed because someone you love can’t be with you?
  • sad remembering loved ones who are no longer alive to share the holidays?
  • uneasy and unsure about following family traditions?
  • troubled about spending too much money?
  • apprehensive about saying no?


Four tips to reduce holiday stress 

1. Take time out during the holidays to focus on yourself and your needs.

Give yourself the gift of alone time.  Do some deep breathing, get a massage or a mani/pedi, meditate, read or journal.  Remember it’s okay to say no, saying no is a gift to yourself.
reduce your holiday stressStay active by maintaining your regular exercise routine. Eat right by focusing on healthy eating while allowing for small indulgences.  Limit your intake of caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol to ensure you get enough rest.  Indulge in power naps when you feel your energy waning.  

If you don’t prioritize your body’s needs, you will be unable to help others or to participate yourself in the holiday activities.  Stress can help us because it’s the energy we need to do the extra tasks that we want to do.  De-stressing is just as important. Take time for yourself.


2.  Embrace the emotions coming your way. 

While we can’t control our emotions, we can control how we react to them.  With the additional stress at the holidays, we are more prone to reacting negatively when our emotional buttons are pushed. If we try to control those emotions by pushing them back down, we sometimes lash out at the ones we love.

Instead, take time to think about who and what pushes your buttons and decide now how you are going to react.  If you sometimes feel like you are on a hamster wheel of reaction, here’s why:  there is a cycle that connects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our thoughts determine our feelings, our feelings influence our behaviors, and our behaviors reinforce our feelings. If you don’t change your thoughts, then you will keep doing what you’ve always done.  But, if make plans now to change your thinking, then you can manage your emotions to create healthier outcomes.

Here are a number of ways to process your emotions:

  • Find a safe space/place to open up/ventreduce your holiday stress
  • Get a coach, confidante, or counselor
  • Meditate or pray
  • Write in a journal
  • Watch an emotional movie and let your feelings flow 
  • Practice gratitude
  • Listen to music you love
  • Get physical – use your body to dance, walk, or exercise.


3.  Ask for and accept help. 

Cleaning, menu planning, shopping, cooking, baking,decorating, and gift wrapping will keep you more than busy.  There is a lot of work to go around and these chores can be divided among all family members.

  • Hold a family meeting and divide the chores appropriately
  • Hire help – a cleaning service and/or servers for mealsreduce your stress with teamwork
  • Use an online shopping service to get your groceries
  • Prepare part but not all of the meal. Decide what you will prepare and what you will buy or ask other people to bring. 
  • Get your gifts wrapped at the mall. Charities raise money with gift wrap tables.  The donations you make will be less out of pocket than buying wrapping paper and doing it yourself. Plus, you are helping others.


4. Get clear on how you will handle various situations.

Think strategically.  Plan ahead. Talk out your concerns with a close friend, confidante, or professional counselor and then decide in advance how you can work through your triggers.

  • Food Take a small portion of that holiday food and give yourself permission to indulge. Eat it slowly and savor every bite.  Eat before you go…have a small nutritious snack before you head to a party.  Decide how you will handle foods that “talk” to you. Bring snacks you will eat like a vegetable tray and dip.
  • Family Show gratitude for having the family together and find the humor in the situation. Honor the memory of loved ones who have passed by sharing stories and memories. If you feel yourself getting anxious, pretend to be a newcomer to your family and take in the experience from an outsider’s perspective. Minimize the time you spend with any difficult or negative relatives. Make a decision not to react or become frustrated when certain people are in the room.  Set aside hard feelings or harsh words – choose another time for working through conflicts. Let go of the past and let bygones be bygones.
  • FitnessDecide in advance how often you will work out during the holiday season. Make physical activity part of the event – take a hike or walk after a large meal. Play hide and seek, tag, or charades.  Get up and move – have a dance contest or go out dancing. Make the focus of family get-togethers more than just the meal – card or board games can add an element of fun. Create a new family tradition such as movie night, a poker tournament or watching football.
  • Finances – Make a budget based on how much you can afford to spend. Stick to your budget and be creative in giving gifts:
  1. Donations to charity
  2. Homemade gifts
  3. Buy family gifts (rather than individual)
  4. Family gift exchange
  5. Give coupons to be redeemed throughout the year

Food family fitness and finances require our management during the holidays

Give perfection the heave-ho

Give perfection the heave-ho and set realistic expectations of yourself and others. Get the word “should” out of your vocabulary or at least recognize when you are holding yourself to a “should” from the past. You don’t have to attend every holiday function that you are invited to. Get comfortable saying no. Recognize what you can and can’t control.  You have control over the light on the porch, but you don’t have control over the weather.  Learn to let go of those things you don’t control and make this holiday season one filled with fun, family, friends, and most of all joy!

Thanks to Becoming Elli Podcast for hosting me on their show!  In Episode 21 of the Becoming Elli Community’s podcast for #FitStrongWomenOver50 Jill and Chris speak with Personal Development Coach Marsha Friedman about Coping with #HolidayStress 

holiday stress quiz

Marsha is a personal development coach and the Comeback Queen.  She has pulled herself up time and again as she’s overcome the challenges that life has thrown in her path.  She’s rebuilt her credit, rekindled her spiritual life, raised successful independent children, reestablished her career, and reclaimed love again (and again).  Marsha shares her story and the lessons she has learned with others to help them overcome the stresses and challenges of being alive.

Marsha offers free 30-minute coaching consults.  To schedule yours, simply send an email to her at  Happy Holidays!