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Reduce Stress and Depression this Holiday Season

The holiday season often brings guests both welcomed and unwelcomed, and for some, stress and depression. It's no wonder the holiday season often presents a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, cleaning, and entertaining, to name a few. You may also feel stressed, sad, or anxious due to your holiday commitments.

Using one or more practical tips can help minimize the stress accompanying the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the season more than you thought you would!

Tips to minimize holiday stress and depression:

When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup; try to prevent stress and depression using the helpful tips below:

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you is sick, recently died, or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out events in your community, other social events, or support networks. There are many websites, online support groups, social media sites, and virtual events offering support and companionship. Also, visit our toolkit for mental health resources here. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others is a great way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home or shelter during the holidays.

3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose your favorite traditions to continue and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can't come together, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails, or videos or getting together virtually. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.

4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members, co-workers, and friends as they are. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

5. Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget; don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone's name

  • Give homemade gifts

  • Start a family gift exchange

6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific time for shopping, baking, connecting with friends, and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list that'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup. This can be fun quality time with friends and loved ones, too!

7. Say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try removing something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence adds to your stress and guilt. A few suggestions include:

  • Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks

  • Eat healthy meals

  • Get plenty of sleep

  • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine

  • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga

  • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol, and drug use

  • Be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress and adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as you see fit

9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself and prioritize activities you enjoy. Spending 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm. Some options may include:

  • Take an evening walk and stargaze or look at the holiday lights

  • Listen to soothing music

  • Read a book

10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings are debilitating or persist, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You can visit our toolkit for mental health resources here.

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