‘Tis the season for happy caroling and precious gifts wrapped with care; for delicious meals served to extended family members as they laugh, share stories, and toast the coming new year.
So if all this is true, why do you feel so down? Could it be that all that holiday cheer is just a tad overwhelming? We say a resounding: “yes, it is!” as we hide behind the Christmas tree.
When the American Psychological Association did a survey on holiday stress, a remarkable 93% of respondents said they felt fatigued during the holiday season “often” or “sometimes,” with 81% admitting to feeling stressed. More than half included irritability in their list of complaints, and sadness, anger, and loneliness also appeared in responses.
So how do you deal? Experts say the best way is to, well, cut yourself some slack. Accept that you’re not perfect, nor do your festivities need to be. Treating yourself with some extra kindness can help you negotiate the holidays more gracefully, with less stress, fewer burnouts, and better sleep at night.
Most Common Ways To Lose Sleep Over The Holidays
The best way to begin your preparations for holiday stress is to be aware of the most common demons that plague people during the holidays—so they don’t catch you off-guard.
The APA study looked at exactly this, with some interesting conclusions. For one thing, women suffer more than men from stress during the holidays. For another, they deal with it in unhealthy ways. Most common were using food and drinking alcohol to alleviate stress—both of which can have unpleasant outcomes.
5 Ways To Improve Your Holiday Sleep
One sure-fire way to counter holiday stress is to get enough sleep every night. But how do you do that when you find yourself tossing and turning into the morning hours, wondering if you’ll get to everything on your to-do list? Here are a few suggestions to help.
Prepare For Jet Lag (if you’re visiting family)
Many of us celebrate the holiday season by packing our bags and heading home—which may be several time zones away. If that’s you, remember that it may take time to beat jet lag and regain your bearings after a plane (or car, bus, or train) trip. Jet lag can disrupt your sleep pattern and leave you feeling fatigued and unwell. To minimize it, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and get some sunlight when you arrive, if possible.
Limit Screen Exposure
Many of us spend our evenings catching up on news, movies, and social media—all on devices such as smartphones and tablets that emit light in blue wavelengths. The problem? Light waves affect your circadian rhythm, which tells you when to sleep and wake up, and no light affects it more than blue light. Your solution? Put your technology away at least 30 minutes before you go to bed, preferably in a location far from your bedroom.
Schedule Your “Worry Time” 2-3 Hours Before Bed
If you like to plan ahead, this will be easy: plan your time to handle fretful tasks — whether that’s making up the holiday menu or addressing Hanukkah cards — well before it’s time to go to bed. Once you’ve tackled them, put them out of your mind. If you’re not a planner, it may be more of a challenge to group your most onerous tasks early in the day, but it’s worth making an effort. The further away you can get your stressors from your sleep time, the more likely you will be able to get a good night’s rest.
Watch How Much Your Drink
“Alcohol negatively impacts sleep and stress levels, and this can get especially hard during the holiday season with lots of social gatherings,” says Karolina Rzadkowolska, an alcohol-free life coach and author of Euphoric: Ditch Alcohol and Gain a Happier, More Confident You. Even one glass of wine, Rzadkowolska says, will reduce REM sleep cycles from their normal cycle of 5-6 a night down to 1-2. This can leave you feeling exhausted the next day, even if you slept the same number of hours as you usually do.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
As always, setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep can make all the difference. Take care of the basics at the start of the season: make sure you have a good pillow, comfortable blankets, and an excellent mattress. Keep your bedroom lights at a low setting, and be sure the room is relatively cool. Ease into your nighttime hours with a warm bath or a light snack. Keep your sleep hours regular, going to bed and getting up at the same time each night, even on weekends.
5 Ways To Handle Stress During The Holidays
We’ve talked about getting a better night’s sleep to combat stress — a vital part of any stress-busting strategy. But there are tactics that can help you throughout the day to negotiate chaotic times and retain your inner calm when all those around you are losing theirs. Here are five things that help ease stress.
Sweat Out Your Stress
It’s easy to want to sacrifice gym time in favor of tackling holiday tasks, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Exercise does you good in a variety of ways. It increases endorphins, which help improve your mood, and reduces stress by helping your body work through tension while also supporting your heart, digestive, and immune systems. Even if your exercise consists of parking at the other end of the mall and walking briskly to your destination, try not to ignore it altogether.
Be Proactive About Restoring Your Peace of Mind
Cultivate calm proactively so that you’re primed to go to your happy place when Uncle Abe starts talking politics at Christmas dinner. Practice simple meditation techniques before going to bed, and take the time to do whatever calms you normally, whether that’s a long walk in a park or a play session with your golden retriever. Keep a sense of humor throughout, armed with the knowledge that the season is soon over, and you’ll be able to return to normalcy before long.
Manage Your Expectations: Embrace The Chaos
Let’s face it: something will go wrong over the holidays, whether it’s an overcooked turkey, clogged sink, or toppled Christmas tree (that darned cat!). Plan when you can, and after that, just resolve to roll with the punches and know that whatever has gone wrong probably looms larger in your mind than in the minds of your guests. The most important thing: do your best and then don’t fret about it.
Seek Support When You Need It
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) reports that 64% of those with mental illness say their condition worsens during the holidays. Ironically, this time of joy brings with it mental and emotional struggles for many. If you are among them, know that you’re not alone — and that there is help available. Read on for our comprehensive listing of resources, or consider scheduling a session or two with a therapist or counselor if you are having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season.
Schedule “Me Time”
Certified Sleep Science Coach and co-founder of Nolah Mattress Stephen Light says it pays to deliberately schedule downtime for yourself. “Lay all those holiday plans out on paper and carve out time for solo self-care,” Light suggests. “20 minutes of alone time will recharge you for the festivities and keep you healthy and happy. So schedule it, and stick to it. Your brain and body will thank you for the care.”
If your fridge isn’t covered with your kids’ pictures of Santa, we recommend printing out our tips and posting them there, preferably with a hokey Christmas tree magnet. Even choosing one or two of our suggestions may be enough to get you through the holidays with your sense of inner peace intact.
See a PDF version of the above graphic here.
Resources For Coping and Staying Resilient
|Resource||How to reach it and what it offers|
|Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Hotline||Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free, confidential 24/7 treatment referral and information services if you are facing mental challenges or a substance abuse situation.|
|“Stress, Depression and the Holidays: Tips for Coping”||This article, found on the website of the prestigious Mayo Clinic, offers tips to augment our own suggestions and may contain something that resonates with you.|
|National Suicide Prevention Lifeline||This 24/7 helpline, available at 1-800-273-8255 or via a chat window, can help you if you’ve lost your way during the holidays. It also offers specific help for veterans, Native Americans, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and those who are LGBTQ+, among others.|
|Surviving the Holidays Without You: Navigating Grief During Special Seasons||This award-winning book is a grief survival kit for anyone who is dealing with loss over the holidays. It can help you heal, cope with memories, and make good choices for yourself throughout the season.|
|National Alliance on Mental Health website||The NAMI website offers a wealth of information on mental health, including this article on avoiding holiday stressors, a helpline, and several support groups you can join.|
|Mental Health America on Inspire||Mental Health America is a community-based nonprofit working to promote mental health. Its Inspire page is a forum for more than 26,000 members who share resources and moderated support across the globe.|
|Calm: Sleep and Meditation||The Calm app, available for iPhone and Android, is the most popular of the many apps designed to help improve sleep, reduce stress, help you to focus, and more.|
|“Tips for Taming Stress During the Holidays”||This one-hour webinar, produced by the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, features clinical psychologists speaking about sources of stress you may encounter during the holiday and ways to handle them.|
Thoughts From The Slumber Yard Family
What it all comes down to is one simple goal: be kind to yourself during the holidays. As you work to make the season a splendid one for your loved ones, don’t forget that you are worthy of love, attention, and care, too. It’s been a difficult year for so many of us, and it’s particularly important, as we see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, to do what you can to minimize stress and increase your coping mechanisms. Doing that will put you in a good place for the coming year and, not incidentally, will help you enjoy satisfying nights of slumber throughout the winter months.
American Psychological Association. APA Survey Shows Holiday Stress Putting Women’s Health at Risk. 2006. Accessed November 8, 2021.
American Psychological Association. Holiday Stress. December 12, 2006. Accessed November 8, 2021.
Mayo Clinic. Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress. August 18. 2020. Accessed November 8, 2021.
National Alliance on Mental Health. Mental Health and the Holiday Blues. November 19, 20214. Accessed November 8, 2021.