How to reduce stress while celebrating the holidays this year

The holidays can be a time of great fun. And they can be a little stressful too — whether you’re dealing with too many cats at your sister’s house or squeezing all those guests into yours. This year, everything’s different, and many of us are wondering how to make the most of the season while staying safe. Should we gather? And if not, how can we find joy in being on our own? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The information included in this post is provided by Optum®, AllWays Health Partners’ behavioral health partner.

Please note: As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise, public health recommendations continue to evolve and change. We recommend frequently checking state guidelines from and federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the latest information around COVID-19 safety.

Realize we’re all stressed

With some kids, college students and adults doing their work at home, many of us are seeing a lot more of our family than we’re used to. Try to understand how COVID-19 is affecting those around you, and be patient if they get irritable. Keep in mind additional stressors, such as financial worries, that may be affecting your loved ones’ moods too. It might be tough to transition into the holiday spirit if you’ve been getting on each other’s nerves.

Be honest about your boundaries

Many of us have different comfort levels right now about seeing other people. While some people are gathering in small groups, others are seeing just household members. If you don’t feel comfortable with the usual holiday traditions for your family, be honest. It’s OK to say no. Try to do so without judgment, and recommend alternatives. For example, if people are gathering without you, maybe you can say hi via video call. Or if everyone is staying at their own homes, consider cooking the same meal and then enjoying it together during a video call.

Check travel recommendations

If you’re considering traveling, check the latest local recommendations as well as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you’re flying, look at airline recommendations for ways to reduce your risk of COVID-19 exposure. Remember to stay hydrated and pack healthy snacks too. Being even a little dehydrated can decrease your energy level and affect your mood.(1)

Keep spending in check

It can be fun to give gifts during the holiday season. And with many of us spending more time at home during the pandemic, it might be easy to get a little carried away with online shopping. If you’re planning to give gifts, start by figuring out what you can afford. If that amount is less than in previous years, that’s fine. After all, it’s the thought that counts, and facing a big credit card balance in January isn’t worth it. Also, be thoughtful about the people you exchange gifts with. If family or friends have experienced job losses or furloughs this year, they may be stressed about the holidays. If it feels appropriate, you might want to consider suggesting your group skip gifts this year, set a price limit or “pick names” instead of buying for everyone.

Find ways to manage stress

As with any year, the holidays can be busy. Figure out what you can take on, and say no if you’re overloaded. Also, celebrate what you’ve accomplished instead of getting frustrated at the things you didn’t complete. If a task isn’t necessary, postpone it or remove it from your list.(2,3) Try these tips too:

  • Find activities that help you relax such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling or stretching.(3)
  • Go for a walk. Just 30 minutes a day can help boost your mood — and walking has other health benefits too.(3)
  • Look for little stressors around you. For example, turn off the news if it’s making you anxious or try curbside pickup if you don’t want to go in stores.(3)


Combat loneliness

Loneliness doesn’t just mean being socially isolated. It’s the feeling of being lonely, and it’s an issue that has been getting increased attention over the past few years — especially regarding elderly people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness is something that any of us could experience. And it’s not just hard emotionally. Loneliness can also lead to increases in heart disease, dementia and other health problems. This holiday season — and all year long — remember that being socially distant doesn’t mean we can’t connect with others. Get creative, and reach out to family and friends you can’t see in person. Use video chat, make a phone call or write a letter.(4)

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Tips to Stay Mentally Healthy While Traveling. Available at: Healthy-While-Traveling. Accessed September 15, 2020.
  2. HelpGuide. Stress Management. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2020.
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2020.
  4. American Psychological Association. COVID-19 Isn’t Just a Danger to Older People’s Physical Health. Available at: Accessed September 15, 2020.
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