Healthy Science/ Healthy Tips to Manage Stress This Holiday Season

Healthy Tips to Manage Stress This Holiday Season

  • Music, moving, and laughing can help relieve stress and anxiety
  • Deep breathing and nature walks can help bring calmness
  • Focused attention, proper nutrition and asking for help can benefit our overall health and well-being

While the holidays are often considered the “most wonderful time of the year,” for many people they can also be the most stressful. Adding gift shopping, holiday parties, travel, and family gatherings to our usual hectic schedules can stimulate stress in even the most Zen-minded person. To help manage some of this holiday anxiety, here are 11 healthy tips that can help bring more cheer. 

1) Listen to music.

Music is a universal language that resonates with everyone. Although most people intuitively know this, research shows that music can help relieve stress and provide feelings of pleasure.1,2 Your music of choice—including a holiday jingle—can bring more calm.3 Whether it’s through a headset at work or a speaker at home, playing music can provide stress relief for anyone, just about anywhere.

2) Move your body.

Regular exercise is a key component to preventing stress and anxiety from taking over your holidays.4 Moving your body and getting your heart rate up can promote natural feel-good endorphins to help manage your moods.5 And the best part is, options for physical activity are endless — running, dancing, hiking, jump-roping, biking, walking, HIIT, yoga, Pilates, etc.! Choose one that is motivating and feasible. Bonus: It will also help you keep off the extra holiday pounds while you enjoy your favorite holiday treats!

3) Breathe deeply.

Moving your body can help manage stress, but there’s also power in pausing to take a deep breath. Meditation is becoming increasingly popular for stress and well-being, especially for people who have a higher likelihood of stress, like managers, executives, and even Fortune 500 CEOs!6 Although 15-30 minutes is typically recommended, research shows as little as 5 mins can bring measurable positive neurological effects.7 A few deep breaths in the midst of a stressful family moment can work wonders too.

4) Observe nature.

Whether it’s trees or a flower garden, being surrounded by nature is a great way to shift your mindset and manage stress and anxiety.8,9 Being in nature can increase feelings of joy and decrease cortisol levels, which are great reasons to get out of the house.8 If you’re unable to spend time outdoors due to weather (or other factors), tending to indoor plants can tame stress levels too.10

5) Focus your attention.

In this high-tech age, it’s easy to get distracted by our devices, leading to frequent “multitasking”. However, neuroscientists have discovered that we’re not really multitasking, we are actually “task switching” or rapidly moving the brain’s focus from one task to another, which is very stressful and energy-sucking. Focusing on one task at a time can help get your holiday “to-do” list done better, faster, and with less stress!11,12

6) Write it down.

From creating a “to-do” list to journaling, it’s often helpful to write things down.13 As obligations begin to increase around the holidays, making a list (and checking it twice!) can improve your chances of accomplishing goals, and provide more brain space for your other pursuits. Journaling can also help reduce stress, process feelings of frustration, and even improve relationships that may get tested over the holidays.14,15

7) Express gratitude.

Gratitude is an inherent holiday de-stressor since it’s during this time of year that people often reflect on the things for which they are grateful. An attitude of gratitude can ease some of the most stressful situations, providing a change of perspective.16 According to a UC Davis gratitude expert, practicing gratitude can have intense and long-term effects, from improving sleep to reducing the risk of anxiety throughout life, including during the holidays. 

8) Get a hug.

Hugs can serve as a greeting and a stress reliever. Research shows that touching a loved-one can boost oxytocin (known as the “love hormone”) levels, which calms stress hormones and provides a natural high.17 It can also lower blood pressure, which increases during stressful times. 

9) Laugh out loud.

There’s nothing like a good laugh. Laughter can help diminish stress, decrease stress hormones, induce feel-good neurotransmitters, and benefit cardiovascular function.18,19 Even laughing when you don’t necessarily feel up to it (for example, in the midst of holiday chaos) can help alleviate stress and anxiety. 

10) Get proper nutrition.

Talking nutrition during the holidays may seem absurd, but people who consume more fruits and vegetables report being happier and more satisfied with their lives.20 Supplementing with nutrients like omega-3s and vitamin D can also help manage feelings of stress and anxiety.21,22 We don’t need to eliminate all of our holiday treats, but balancing our diets may also help balance our mood.

11) Ask for help.

We can all use a little help from others from time to time, especially when our stress and anxiety levels become too intense for us to cope on our own. Whether it’s delegating a holiday task, meeting up with your circle of friends, or sitting down with a therapist, asking for help contributes greatly to our overall health and well-being.23,24

We all know how easy it is to get wrapped up in holiday stress but implementing some of these simple 11 tips can help you shift to a calmer state amidst the mayhem. So, the next time you are triggered by a family member or late package, remember things like listening to music, moving, laughing, and deep breathing can help relieve stress and anxiety. And bring more cheer to the “most wonderful time of the year!”  

Happy Holidays!

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