Taming Holiday Stress

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

As you are reading this, you are probably adding to your already mile-long holiday to-do list. Goodies to bake, cards to write, packages to buy and wrap, parties to attend, travel plans to make…..your list is already winding down the hall and will soon hang out the living room window, waving in the breeze to passers by. Yes, the stress of the holidays has begun.


Too many activities, even if they are fun ones like spending time with family and going to parties, can leave you feeling tired and stressed.  And unfortunately, when stress rears its ugly head, many of us turn to comfort foods. For some, those foods are sweets. For others, more traditional foods such as macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes are what we crave. And for many of us, anything we can get our hands on will do. Stress can cause us to reach for foods when we aren’t hungry and during the day between meals. This can add too many calories to the day and contribute to weight gain. Whether your stress comes from too many to-dos or from unfriendly relatives, it doesn’t have to derail your plan to maintain your weight.


This week’s challenge is to manage your stress without adding to your waistline. Here are some tips to help you:

 Eliminate the Stressors 

·    Make a plan and learn to say no. Prioritize what you are going to be able to get done and end your list there. Sure, it is hard to tell your co-worker that you just can’t bake 100 cupcakes by next week for the holiday bake sale, but your relationship won’t be ruined over it. Too many times we feel guilty if we do not fit something else into our already jam-packed schedule. But by saying yes to everything, we get over-extended and stressed out.

·    This holiday season, underestimate how much you can do and overestimate how long it will take for you to do it.  Use a calendar to make a plan for when and how you are going to get your tasks done. Then you can schedule in some time for those last-minute requests, but don’t say yes to all of them. You’ll be better able to enjoy the festivities of the season if you are not worried about your to-do list.

·    Set a Budget – As with the rest of the year, money (or lack thereof) is one of the more frequent stressors of the holiday season.  To reduce stress, make a budget and stick with it.  Don’t overspend or feel guilty if you can’t afford a gift you would love to give.  The holiday season is about togetherness and gratitude, not gifts.

·    Remember the importance of Family – Yes, they may drive you crazy and even may be the sole source of your holiday stress, but now is the time of year to let the little things go.  Even if you’d prefer not to be spending time with a particular person, you can be polite and gracious.  Just remember, there are twelve full months until the next holiday season!

 Managing the Stress 

Take care of yourself. Remember to eat smart, move more, get enough sleep and plan relaxation into your day.  Often if we do not manage the holiday stress we can end up getting sick and missing out on some of the fun or not accomplishing everything on our list anyway.


·    Snack smart. During this busy time of year, meals can be pushed back or even skipped in favor of getting something else done. Snacking can help fill the void between meals, but snacks can add up to too many calories if you choose the wrong foods. Pack some healthier snack options such as fruit, low-fat granola bars, or bite-sized whole wheat cereal in your purse, car or desk. When the snack urge arises, you will have something on-hand instead of running to the vending machine or drive-through. Before snacking, ask yourself if you really are hungry, or if you are just stressed. You may find out that you just want to get away from your desk for a few minutes, and the vending machine allows that outlet. If this is the case, go outside for a five-minute power walk or walk around your building. Then have a snack only if you are hungry.

·    Get your daily dose of activity. Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce stress. According to the American Council on Exercise, regular exercise can help you to feel relaxed and less anxious. Make exercise something you do for yourself every day, instead of one more thing on the to-do list that is stressing you out.

·    Also, make sure you get plenty of sleep. Being tired can make you sluggish, which can make checking things off your list take even longer. Make sure you start fresh each day after a full night’s sleep.

·    Take short breaks for relaxation.  When you feel the tension mounting, take some quiet time to regroup.  Start by taking a deep breath and slowly exhale, releasing the tension as you blow out.  You can even do this when standing in line at stores.  Trying adding a few short stretch breaks into your day. 

 You probably can’t avoid all holiday stress this season, but using these tips you can help reduce and manage it. Remember, you are trying to maintain your weight this season, so don’t let stress derail that.