How to Actually Enjoy the Holidays

Is it really the “most wonderful time of the year?” A survey of 2,000 adults found that 88% of respondents believe the holidays are the most stressful time of the year.

  • Two in five said they would rather stand in line at the DMV than deal with holiday stress
  • One in five would rather sit on a plane ride besides a screaming toddler

That’s really saying something.

These findings speak volumes about how challenging this time of year can be. While it’s impossible to get rid of holiday stress altogether, there are ways to make it more manageable.

1. Be picky

Choose carefully what you say “yes” to. There is a difference between events you want to attend and events you feel like you have to attend. Don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I cannot make it.” For more creative ways to say “no thank you” check out The New Yorker’s R.S.V.P. Regrets Generator.

2. Be clear-eyed

Manage expectations. It’s nice to have high hopes for the holidays but be realistic. There is no such thing as the perfect holiday. Aim for good enough.

3. Set limits

Our eyes are often bigger than our stomach when it comes to time with family. Don’t overindulge. A survey found that the average person can’t last four hours with their family over the holidays. Choose quality over quantity.

4. Find common ground

A family dinner is not the time to change someone’s mind. Set aside differences. Focus on what you have in common. There are so many other things to talk about other than politics.

5. Skip the sugar plum pudding

The food we eat has a direct influence on our mental health. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating more fruit predicted fewer depression symptoms and greater psychological well-being while eating more savory or sugary snacks predicted increased anxiety. Put simply, say bah humbug to the chocolate babka. Your mood will thank you.

6. Walk it off

‘Tis not the season to be a couch potato. Just a short stroll can boost your mood and reduce stress. A study found that walking in a winter wonderland is especially mood-enhancing. The researchers found that spending time in snowy surroundings can improve how you feel about your body and boost self-compassion. Being outdoors will also improve sleep quality (see below).

7. Protect your sleep

I promise you will enjoy the holidays more if you make sleep a priority. Even a night or two of too little rest can impact mood and energy. Exposure to natural daylight is key. People tend to spend less time outdoors in the winter which delays our circadian clock and pushes back the onset of sleep at night. Even if it’s overcast, bundle up and go outside.

While it’s impossible to remove stress from the holidays, it is possible to make this time less stressful — or at least better than standing in line at the DMV or sitting next to a screaming toddler.

As the old saying goes, “Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle.”

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman