Monthly Health Message:

Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

December 2017

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Many people feel stress around the holidays. Keeping yourself healthy is only possible if realistic plans are set ahead, support is requested when holidays overwhelm us with work around the home, visitors, and job responsibilities. The holiday season often has a lot of demands from family, friends, co-workers and bosses. Lots of parties to attend, cookies to bake, houses to trim and cleaning to do so you can entertain. Below are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays and relieve some of that stress:

  • Limit the amount of work each day in preparation for the holidays. Make a weekly list of tasks that need to get accomplished and share with other family members if possible.
  • Make sure you accept your feelings—often we feel sad, happy, and maybe angry we will not see loved ones over the holidays due to an inability to get together. Allow yourself time to feel sad and don't force the feelings of happiness if you do not actually feel that way this year. Make it OK to cry or feel sad and accept the season for what it is.
  • Reach out to others for companionship and attend community and social events that allow you to engage in conversation and friendship with others. Keep active, which will allow you to feel better and keep your spirits high.
  • No holiday is perfect, so pick and choose activities around the house that you enjoy doing. Bake cookies instead of hanging lights; trim the tree instead of shopping in a crowded mall; use gift cards or checks if you can't find that special gift that your child wants. Keep it simple and don't try to do more than you can. Find relaxation time between all the holiday tasks.
  • Keep differences between family members in a “neutral” zone over the holidays. Accept others as they are and be open to new ways of accomplishing tasks. Celebrate with love and acceptance, and, don't let others bring up old grievances. Find a time after the holidays to discuss issues of concern and keep communication lines open with everyone.
  • Stick to a budget before you go shopping for food or gifts. Bring a list and set a holiday gift budget so you don't overspend. Buy healthy food that is low in fat, salt and sugar. Happiness comes from feeling healthy and knowing you are living within your means.
  • Try donating to a charity of your choice or helping out at a Food Bank, shelter or other agency that is providing food, clothing or shelter to others in need.
  • Start a family gift exchange so you only buy one gift for the name of the person you pull from the hat.
  • Give homemade crafts, cookies, scarves, mittens, hats, quilts or other hand-made items.
  • Learn to say no when you are already busy and keep your schedule as consistent as possible.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep, regular physical activity and healthy meals. Practice mindful behavior and keep using your phone and computer to a minimum.
  • Take a walk, listen to light music, and/or read a book to relax each day.
  • Seek professional help if you feel constantly overwhelmed. Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take small steps to cope with the stress. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as personal demands and financial issues. With good health management, planning and positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences