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  • Writer's pictureSusan Jacobs

How to Navigate the Holidays: Understanding and Managing Anxiety for a Healthier Season

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

December is upon us.

Are you excited by all the “Tis the Season to be Jolly” fanfare?

Or do you feel more like Ebenezer Scrooge, in a “Bah Humbug” mood?

Does the “Ho, Ho, Ho” holiday spirit make you want to pull the covers over your head and not resurface until after the New Year? If so, rest assured that you’re not alone.

For many, this is a joyous, festive time of year spent with loved ones. There is, however, an underlying weight that affects many others amidst the sparkling decorations, holiday songs, and eggnog. It’s known as holiday anxiety.

Whether it’s enduring family gatherings or managing the financial strain of gift-giving, the holiday season can amplify stress and anxiety with its unique blend of expectations and pressures.

Below, we’ll address common holiday anxiety triggers, differentiate between everyday stress and more serious mental health concerns, and provide practical tips for managing and reducing stress throughout the holiday season.

Woman with head down; managing holiday anxiety

Understanding Holiday Anxiety

It’s common for the holidays to evoke mixed emotions set off by various stressors that affect individuals differently.

The first step in effectively managing holiday-related anxiety is recognizing and identifying these triggers.

Identifying Common Triggers

While our triggers may differ, there are several that are commonly shared:

  • Social and Family Pressure: Meeting social and family expectations can be overwhelming. Whether it involves hosting gatherings, searching for the perfect gifts, or conforming to specific social standards, these expectations can elevate stress levels significantly.

  • Isolation and Loneliness: With its emphasis on togetherness, the holiday season can intensify feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly for those separated from family, without family, or experiencing significant life changes.

  • Perfectionism: Striving for perfection is an impossible feat. If you set unrealistic expectations for yourself and others, you’ll likely be disappointed and with increased anxiety. Embracing imperfection can help alleviate any unnecessary pressure you may put upon yourself.

  • Finances: Financial stress can contribute to holiday anxiety. Be proactive by creating a budget and considering more budget-friendly alternative ways to celebrate, including homemade gifts or shared experiences.

Differentiating Everyday Stress From Serious Mental Health Concerns

While there is no way to avoid holiday stress, recognize the difference between typical everyday stress and more serious mental health concerns that may warrant professional attention. If persistent anxiety or recurring panic attacks affect you, or if stress impacts your daily functioning, please seek the guidance of a mental health professional immediately.

Practical Tips for Managing Holiday Anxiety

Here are a variety of tips that you can begin incorporating into your daily life today. Don’t just use them around the holidays. They’re helpful for your overall well-being year-round.

Time Management

  • Scheduling and Time Blocking: Proactively plan holiday activities to reduce last-minute stress. Create a schedule that incorporates breaks and downtime. Use scheduling tools, time-blocking techniques, and timers. Planning can help you feel more in control and reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed.

Establish Clear Boundaries

  • Clear Communication: Communicate your boundaries to your family and friends. Let them know what you can realistically manage. Learn to say no when needed. Prioritize your well-being. Setting realistic expectations for yourself and others can reduce anxiety.

Mindfulness, Relaxation, and Self-Care

  • ·Meditation and Breathwork: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Short meditation sessions or deep breathing exercises work wonders to quiet the mind, calm the nervous system, and reduce stress.

  • Personal Care Activities: Do activities that bring you joy and inspire relaxation, whether reading a book, taking a hot bubble bath, listening to music, dancing, exercising, or enjoying a hobby. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is essential for managing stress and anxiety year-round.

Maintain Overall Health

  • Prioritize Sleep: Sleep is crucial for our overall health. A good night’s rest allows our body to reduce cortisol levels and other stress hormones. Well-rested, we tend to be calmer and less reactive to challenging situations.

  • Balance Your Nutrition: What we put into our bodies matters. A balanced diet can help counter the impact of stress by boosting our immune system, repairing damaged cells, and lowering blood pressure. Certain foods may even help to regulate cortisol levels. Avoid excessive caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, which can contribute to heightened anxiety.

  • Stay Active: Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Exercise is a powerful, natural stress reliever. It reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins, which are mood boosters. Your holiday exercise routine need not be anything complicated. Keep it simple – even just a brisk walk works wonders. YouTube offers plenty of free exercise options– from yoga classes to bodyweight routines and so much more.

Couple hugging outside; managing holiday anxiety

Create New Traditions

  • Connect with Others: Even during the most stressful times, it’s important not to isolate and to socialize. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends whom you can lean on and share your feelings honestly.

  • Volunteer: Getting involved with charitable causes helps others and provides a sense of purpose and perspective that can shift feelings of loneliness. Think about causes you’re passionate about, reach out, and see if they can use your help. Even just that step may empower you to feel less lonely.

  • Practice Gratitude: Each day, reflect on things you’re thankful for. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, gratitude helps “train your brain to notice and appreciate the little things in life and, in doing so, shifts your life experience tremendously. Gratitude can increase your happiness and well-being, life satisfaction, even overall health while decreasing the stuff we all want less of like anxiety, depression, and anger.”


As we enter the holiday season, there are simple steps you can take to prioritize your mental, physical, and financial well-being. By understanding common anxiety triggers, paying attention to whether you’re experiencing everyday stress or something more serious, and implementing the above recommended practical tips for managing anxiety, it is possible to create a healthier and more enjoyable holiday experience. Remember, you’re not alone. Seek support as needed and maintain an open, honest dialogue with those in your circle.

Additional Resources

Mental Health Support and Resources:


  • “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne

  • “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown

  • “The Gratitude Journal”


Mediation & Breathwork Tools:



Susan Jacobs is a freelance content writer, copywriter, and content editor with 20 years of experience writing for clients across industries. Drawing on her background in PR, marketing, and branding, she elevates clients’ visibility in the marketplace through strategic written content.

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