a woman feeling holiday stress while working at a laptop

Tis the season to be merry, right? The holidays are a magical time of year, but there’s no sugarcoating that this year has been particularly challenging as we continue to live through the realities of COVID-19. Now, we find ourselves managing holiday stress on top of the added emotions of not seeing family and friends. Not to mention possibly missing out on some of our favorite traditions.

However, one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in the last 10 months is our resilience. Across our country and around the world, we’ve heard stories of people meeting challenges head-on: Healthcare workers stepping up to fill a desperate need in our communities; Parents juggling virtual school and work schedules; Neighbors coming together to support vulnerable friends or family members; Families finding new and creative ways to celebrate birthdays and holidays. I’m confident that we’ll continue to hear many similar stories over the coming weeks.

So, as you juggle the stress of the holidays, I do hope you can keep the magic of this time of year in mind. Try to find fun and memorable ways to commemorate this wild, wacky and crazy year that’s been 2020. And, if you need a little boost on how to handle stress during the holidays, here are some of our tried-and-true tips.

1. Set priorities

The holidays are full of hustle and bustle, even when COVID-19 may be putting restrictions on travel and holiday get-togethers. There are still presents to buy, gifts to wrap and projects to complete. One of the best ways of handling holiday stress and your growing to-do list is to set priorities.

What do you really need to accomplish?

It’s easy to let expectations get the best of us all, especially when trying to create the perfect holiday for family and coworkers. Instead of getting caught up in what you think you should do, ask yourself what has to be done. For example,

  • Will your kids notice if they don’t have the perfect sugar cookies for Santa? (Store-bought is fine!)
  • Will coworkers appreciate a gift card to their favorite store?
  • Can you move any deadlines around for some breathing room?

What’s most important?

At the same time, ask yourself what holiday traditions mean the most to you:

  • Do you want to spend time crossing items off the to-do list or would you rather relax with a good movie at the end of the long day?
  • Will wrapping up that work project give you more peace of mind than wrapping those last-minute gifts?

Our friends at Providence also offer some great tips on how to manage holiday stress.

2. Keep it simple

Once you’ve recognized your priorities, it’s best to set realistic expectations and identify what can get done. Remember, you don’t have to be a one-person show! Enlist help wherever you can:

  • Get your team involved and delegate
  • Recruit a spouse or partner to wrap presents
  • Draw names for a gift exchange, instead of buying for everyone
  • Have older kids help create holiday magic for little ones

3. Maintain healthy habits

When stress enters our life, oftentimes we’re thrown off from our normal routines and schedule. We tend to cut corners at mealtime or sleep. This impacts our bodies and mental health more than we realize. This year, healthy habits that boost your immunity are more important than ever.

  • Do your best to exercise. Even a 10-minute walk can help shift your perspective and improve your mood.
  • Maintain healthy sleep habits (7-9 hours each night). It will help you feel calmer and content the next day.
  • Find quiet time for reflection or to take a deep breath and be thankful for the season.
  • Follow CDC guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. Keep taking preventive measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. That includes wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings and washing your hands frequently.

4. Take time to celebrate and reflect

Look at the year as a whole and recognize all that you and your team have accomplished. You may not be able to celebrate in person with colleagues or family members, but there are many great ways to stay connected! Try out one of these great ideas:

  • Schedule a Zoom happy hour — complete with games, prizes and fun conversation.
  • Go on a Christmas light walk in your neighborhood.
  • Send a note of appreciation to a friend.
  • Share a holiday meal with a neighbor vulnerable to the virus. Package up leftovers and drop it off at their house.

Looking for more creative ways to celebrate the season? Our partners at Roper St. Francis and Emory Healthcare share ideas for how to keep family traditions safe and tips for celebrating during COVID-19.

5. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Have you ever met someone who can maintain a positive outlook regardless of what’s going on around them? They seem to focus on the good in their life, instead of focusing on the negative. This takes some practice, but you can certainly accomplish it:

  • Be generous with loved ones, colleagues and friends.
  • Give compliments to brighten someone’s day.
  • Keeping a gratitude journal is another great way to promote gratitude.

What are some of your favorite holiday stress tips? How are you planning on celebrating and enjoying the season this year? Share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Editor’s note: This blog was updated on December 9, 2020. It was originally published on December 19, 2019. Nina Mitchell also contributed to this post.