Tips for Managing Holiday Stress, 2020 Style

Stress levels and mental health issues can spike during the holiday season. Here’s how to make the holidays less stressful.

Fights with a family member over politics. Maxed-out credit cards. Too much togetherness. Not enough togetherness. COVID-19 logistics. Welcome to holiday stressors, 2020 edition.

We might tell ourselves to just relax and enjoy this special time of the year, but we all know it’s not that easy. Why are holidays so stressful? And what are some actionable tips for managing stress during the holidays?

The American Psychological Association (APA) breaks its recommendations on how to handle holiday stress into four areas:

  • Managing expectations
  • Difficult family interactions
  • Gift-giving pressures
  • Financial concerns

Managing Expectations

It’s easy to get caught up chasing the Pinterest-ideal holiday. But comparing your real life to the Internet’s highlight reel will leave you feeling envious and disappointed.

The Perfectionism Trap

Whether it’s your home, yourself or your kids, perfection is unattainable. Chasing “perfect” is a losing game, and the APA says it’s one of the biggest holiday stressors.

This year’s celebration doesn’t have to look like previous years (especially if previous years didn’t make you particularly happy). 2020 is the ideal year to simplify your plans, menu, gift-giving and more. You don’t need anyone’s approval.

In the words of author Richard Carlson, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.”

Difficult Family Interactions

Set Boundaries

Maintaining healthy boundaries is hard, especially around people you don’t see often. But boundaries help reduce stress during the holidays.

Don’t Overextend Yourself

Be honest with yourself—and others—about how much you can handle. Think about WHY you’re celebrating, and make sure your expectations and actions support that. Overscheduling and overextending yourself or your family is a ticket to stressville.

Remember, “No” is a complete sentence.

Politics: the Elephant (and Donkey) in the Room

In a November 2020 APA survey, a whopping 40% of U.S. adults admit that politics has strained relationships with family members.

When politics are a flash point, knowing how to handle holidays with family and friends can be tricky. But this season of celebration is the perfect time to set aside differences as much as possible.

Be open and kind. During difficult conversations, avoid personal attacks and divisive language. If a conversation escalates, it’s ok to peacefully excuse yourself.

Gift-Giving Pressures

Especially this year—when many people face extra financial hurdles—it’s really the thought that counts.

There’s no need to become a stressed holiday shopper, obsessed with checking items off a wish list. 2020 is a great year to excuse yourself from the hustle and bustle.

Consider alternative gift ideas:

  • Make a charitable donation in someone’s name
  • Do a family gift exchange
  • Make homemade gifts
  • Spend time with someone who misses you

Financial Concerns

Figure out what you can afford to spend and then make a budget. Maxing out your credit cards on expensive gifts may win you thanks, but you’ll feel stressed about the financial consequences.

Plan ahead and stick to the budget. Remind yourself: you can’t buy happiness.

The same goes for holiday meal planning. Make a budget and create a menu. A simple meal served with a genuine smile is more enjoyable than a gourmet spread that exhausts you.

Mindfulness and the Senses

Mindfulness helps us appreciate the present moment, instead of worrying about the past or future.

Kerrin Sendrowitz O’Connor, PhD, is a licensed psychologist. Her go-to 2020 holiday stress tips include mindfulness using the five senses:

  • Take a moment to smell the tree or sniff some baking aromas
  • Spend a few minutes gazing into the tree lights or a candle
  • Notice how your body moves and feels as you wrap gifts or decorate
  • Find your favorite version of a holiday song and really listen to it
  • Savor the taste of a special treat

“Pay attention to how your body and emotions react as you do these things,” she said. “You don’t need to be a pro or follow a guided meditation script to be present.”

Calming Scents

Certain scents are known to calm stress. Research shows essential oils like lavender, frankincense and bergamot can help elevate mood and manage stress. Clary sage can reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Add a few drops of essential oils to an essential oil diffuser and make your home an escape from stress.

Reach Out, Give Back

If signs of holiday stress start to overwhelm you, remember you’re not alone. Reach out to a family member or friend and share your worries about coping with holiday stress. A text, Facetime or phone call may get your mood back on track.

Volunteering your time or donating to a charity can help you focus on the “reason for the season” and lift your mood.


We’ve all heard the advice to “put your own oxygen mask on first.” Deciding to find time for self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It means you’re taking care of yourself so you can more effectively help others.

Psychotherapist Angela Savides, LPC, CSAC, said an important part of self-care and stress relief during the holidays is asking for help when you need it. “People are not mind-readers and may not know you’re in need,” she said.

A one-on-one request for help is most likely to get results. In a group thread, people may assume someone else will step up.

Remember these simple self-care tips to avoid holiday stress:

  • Drink enough water
  • Eat healthy food
  • Protect your sleep, and your family’s sleep
  • Take time for yourself
  • Go outside and get fresh air
  • Practice deep breathing

Need More Help?

Natural herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies help relieve anxiety, stress and nervous tension. Try these favorite stress-busters from Native Remedies.

CBD has exploded in popularity as a health and mood supporter. It comes in multiple formulas and strengths.

Stress in Children

Holidays can cause kids to feel overwhelmed, too. New people, lack of sleep and disrupted routines can all increase stress levels in children—not to mention anxiety about impressing a certain jolly old elf who “sees you when you’re sleeping.”

Several all-natural formulas can help keep kids calm and happy year-round.

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