How to enjoy a (relatively) stress-free Christmas season

By Rita Buettner

A hand hangs a gold ornament on a Christmas tree

’Tis just days before Christmas, with so much to do.
There are gifts to be purchased; your kids have the flu.
Your to-do list is longer than Santa’s, for sure.
And you’re dreading that party that’s always a bore.
The money is tight, and the house is a mess,
And you wonder just how to relieve all the stress.

During a season that can be full of joy, many people also experience stress and anxiety. Loyola magazine turned to Rachel Grover, Ph.D., professor of psychology, for tips on how to navigate the holidays with a little less stress.

Stay on schedule and take care of yourself.

“It’s a busy time,” Grover says. “There’s a lot of balancing multiple people’s needs, and then there’s a lot of perceived pressure to make it wonderful. Because it’s really busy, some of your normal self-care routines get interrupted. Try to get a good amount of sleep, try to eat as healthy as possible, and—if you drink—try to drink in moderation. If you have children, keep their schedules as normal as possible, too.”

Take a walk. Exercise. Breathe.

“Schedule in some short relaxation times. If you regularly exercise, schedule in at least a short exercise time. A walk outside can really clear your head,” Grover says. “Take a moment to do some deep breathing. There’s really good research to show that just a few deep breaths lower your heart rate and your blood pressure.”

Recognize your limits.

Schedule time for breaks between events and activities. “Try to know your limits and your family’s limits,” Grover says. “And know that you can say no.”

Be careful navigating hot-topic conversations.

“Recognize that different members of your family might have really different views from yours, and think in advance how you want to handle that. The important part is to respect and listen to the other person and then to calmly state your views,” Grover says. “At the same time, you want to pick your battles. There are definitely some people that can handle difficult conversations really well, and there may be members of your family who don’t handle them as well, and you don’t want to engage. It is completely fine to change the subject—to say, ‘You know what, let’s leave politics aside for today. How are your hobbies? How is your work going?’”

Set a budget for gifts—and be creative in your giving.

“Try to think of a reasonable budget of what you can comfortably afford, and then think about how you might divide that amount amongst the people for whom you feel you need to buy gifts. Also consider that small, meaningful gifts can be really powerful,” Grover says. Write a heartfelt note. Give an experience. Take someone to lunch. Plan a tour or scavenger hunt of places that are meaningful to your relationship. Give a framed photo of a trip or a memorable experience. Give a coupon or a certificate that for a trip to the movies, or a promise that to call once a week. “There’s research that shows that we tend to appreciate the gift of experiences more than the gift of material things.”

Try to stay positive.

Keep your expectations realistic and optimistic. “People can put a lot of pressure on themselves to make the holiday perfect, when if you take a second and think about it, nothing is perfect, and what we’re going for is good enough,” Grover says.

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