The 6 Worst Holiday Stressors (and How to Avoid Them)

Yikes! It’s already full-on holiday season. But consider this: As you sit there scratching your head wondering just how much you have to get done before that oh-so-festive time of year, are you factoring in your own health and well-being? Or more simply, your sanity?

Filled with family time, holiday parties, and lots of gift-giving, the holiday season is sure to bring along some unwanted stress. Your brain probably feels more like a foggy snow-globe than a crystal clear ball. But don’t get your stockings in a twist just yet — we’re delivering you all the insider info you need to keep those holiday-induced panic attacks at bay. Here are six of this season’s worst stressors, and how to avoid them.

1. Shopping for gifts

woman in white blouse and jeans holding shopping bags

Woman doing holiday shopping |

While the actual giving part of the whole gift-exchange process is a time-honored tradition, it can often get out of hand. At a certain point, you get more concerned about crossing names off the list than actually putting real thought into the person on the receiving end. With many major retailers having opened their doors the evening before Black Friday — yes, Thanksgiving night — it can be difficult not to get caught up in all that shopping madness. But don’t let that happen to you this year.

Avoid it by remembering what really matters: Think about what the holidays really mean to you and your loved ones. Is it about overspending to deliver an assortment of material objects? Or is it about spending time with family and friends, and celebrating your relationships with them? When your holiday list gets to be too much, the American Psychological Association reminds you to scale back on store-bought presents, elaborate decorations, and gourmet food. Instead, show love and appreciation for those around you.

2. Expectations to follow traditions

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas | Disney

Let’s face it, a big part of the holiday season is abiding by traditions that have been hammered into you since you were a kid. As with many other people who grow up celebrating the festive season, you probably have a laundry list of family traditions, customs, recipes — you name it — that you need to stick to year after year, right? Not necessarily.

Avoid it by taking control: You may think you need to do certain things in order to keep tradition alive, but you’re an adult now, so that’s not the case. As WebMD mentions, there’s often a mismatch between what we think we need to do and what we want to do. It’s the holidays, for Pete’s sake. Don’t lose yourself and your own happiness in traditions created by others. If you’re not exactly feeling Aunt Cathy’s super secret fruit cake recipe this year, don’t make it. Simple as that. It may be time to create some holiday traditions of your own.

3. Hosting holiday dinners

woman opening door to family during holidays

Woman welcoming family into her home |

There’s a reason the McCallister clan in Home Alone opted for pizza delivery over a home-cooked meal the night before they left town — cooking for multiple families is just plain exhausting. We all know how stressful planning, cooking, and hosting a dinner for a large group can be. “This one has allergies,” “that one is a perfectionist, so you better not mess up.” The list goes on. So, don’t set yourself up for disaster.

Avoid by planning ahead: Earth to your future self: What’s the one way you can prevent any dinner-party stress? Plan ahead, of course. Mayo Clinic recommends setting aside specific days for grocery shopping and meal prep. And don’t forget to enlist syour family and friends for setup and cleanup.

4. Family

family exchanging gifts

Family celebrating the holidays |

For most people, the holiday season is synonymous with family time, and lots of it. Whether it’s decorating the tree, drinking eggnog, or donning matching holiday sweaters, your family will be around, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Their very presence may irk you, and your mother will likely make the same comments about your interior design choices as she always does. So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Avoid it by accepting your loved ones, flaws and all: It may sound rather Grinch-like, but if you’re able to abandon hope that this year will somehow be different, you’ll be better off. You’re not doing yourself any favors by expecting people to be in better moods, act more kindly, or be more considerate just because it’s the holiday season — though it sure would be nice. The Huffington Post says letting some things slide will help keep the peace. Choose your battles wisely, and maybe your good behavior will rub off on others.

5. Travel

Seat Rows inside an Airplane

Airplane seats |

In recent years, AAA has estimated more than 98 million people travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday season. This means you’re bound to run into frustrations. If you’re going by car, traffic, snow conditions, and fighting kids in the back seat are all fair game. And traveling by air? Forget about it. No matter how seasoned a traveler you are, you’re bound to run into uncontrollable delays or angry airline customers.

Avoid it by leaving extra days on either end of your trip: You’re well aware your trip could run into some snafus, so don’t let yourself fall victim to airline mess-ups or Mother Nature’s winter wrath. Instead of booking your flights with absolutely no room for error, work a couple extra days onto either end of your trip. If you have to be at work at 8 a.m. on Monday, don’t book a Sunday night flight. Check out more holiday travel tips here.

6. Being spread too thin

stressed out man wearing santa hat

Stressed out man wearing santa hat |

There’e a lot going on this time of year, so it’s natural you’ll feel overextended. Between what everyone else is expecting from you, and what you’re expecting from yourself, the holidays can leave you exhausted, overworked, and overwhelmed. And when you’re spread too thin, your productivity can quickly become, well, counterproductive.

Avoid it by ditching your phone: Yes, it sounds crazy, especially during a busy time of year. But if you resolve to go tech-free from time to time, Health says you’ll be doing yourself a great service. Schedule just a couple of hours a week at a time when you’re not required to use your electornics. In committing to simply turning your phone and computer off for a bit, you’ll be doing something for yourself, without really doing much at all.