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Tips for a Healthy Stress-Free Holiday

6 min read

By Kathi Cameron, MA, RCC

Reviewed by Greg Dorter, RP

For some, the holiday season is all about joy, giving to others, family, and good food. For others, it can be a stressful, torturous venture into the depths of family dysfunction, overeating, and high credit card debt. With the pressures and expectations of home decorating, home cooking, and holiday parties coupled with the navigation of the overcrowded malls and parking lots, tis the season for stress, emotional eating, and chronic fatigue.

So with many people dreading the beginning of December, we offer the following tips to make this time of year as healthy and stress free as possible…


The party season will be getting underway any minute now and with it comes late nights (coupled with the odd hangover). As some of us begin to feel the pressure of the season on our shoulders, sleep deprivation may make the tiniest molehill look like a mountain.

A good night’s sleep (anything between 7 – 9 hours of deep sleep) has amazing restorative powers and will provide us with the resiliency we may need to get to the New Year (with our nerves intact). If getting to sleep is a challenge, try turning off the screen 30-45 minutes before bedtime and/or have a hot shower or bath to help relax and induce sleep.

Eat a Vegetable

With all the home baked goodies at work and home, it may be challenging to remember to eat our veggies. Chronic ingestion of chocolate, cookies, and fruit cake may be lovely in the moment, but can lead to fatigue, gastrointestinal challenges, and even depression.

It may be necessary to plan a few meals during the day that include as many servings of veggies as possible or prepare a plate of veggies with dip to sit on the kitchen counter for munching (instead of the chips). By keeping up with our healthy eating regime, it will be easier to sustain our energy levels through the festive season.

Go For a Walk

When our social lives get busy one of the first things to go is exercise.  Let’s face it, it is hard to keep to our workout commitment through the school pageants, house parties, and office events (and that’s okay). While it may do our bodies some good to take a break from our fitness schedule, we can still reap the rewards of physical activity by going for a walk.

Although walking may not share the same benefits as our Crossfit routine, it will increase oxygen uptake, elevate our heart rates, enhance our mood, decrease our stress, and get us out in the fresh air.

Just Say No

With the holiday season comes the pressure to entertain, be entertained, and give of our money and ourselves. For some, this comes naturally, but for others it leaves them feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed out.

Establishing personal boundaries for ourselves is one of the best things we can do for our health during the holidays. Learning to say “no” more often will only leave us with more time to focus on what is most important. Begin by drafting up a list of the important events (a grocery list so to speak) and refer to it when other offers arise. It is much easier to stick to a plan if you have one.

Avoid Setting the Standard of Perfection

Thanks to social media and all those home décor networks, we are exposed to more images of the “perfect” holiday season. Gone are the days of paper chain links on the tree and a simple string of lights on the house. It’s safe to say that holiday home decorating and party hosting is on steroids.

Perfectionism has been correlated to stress, anger, and other mental health issues. We may work around the clock to prepare the perfect family dinner with all the trimmings, only to become frustrated and angry when we don’t attain it. If we expect perfection we will always be disappointed because perfect doesn’t exist. It would do us all good to lower our expectations and be happy with the string of popcorn on the tree and the overcooked turkey for a change.

Set a Budget

Isn’t it always that when we go into the store to pick up one last gift, we leave with bags of presents? The sad irony is most gifts will be forgotten or set aside soon enough leaving us to wonder why we spent the money in the first place.

To come out of the holiday season financially fit, it is important to take a realistic inventory of what we have to spend and set a budget for each person on our list. It isn’t worth binging on gifts if we are only going to suffer the credit card hangover in January.

Schedule Downtime

It doesn’t have to be December to have a schedule that leaves no time to enjoy our families and ourselves. Although the holiday season offers many the opportunity to slow down, it also brings a number of social commitments that can leave us feeling drained.

No matter what the personality type, we all need time to rest and recreate. By allowing some space between festivities we are more able to take a breath and get our groove back. Remember, it isn’t the quantity, but the quality of social experiences that leads to a sense of connection with others.

It’s Okay to Avoid the Holidays

From holiday TV specials to the seasonal movies depicting tight knit families enjoying each other’s company, we are inundated with messages on how we should act and feel during the season. For many people the holiday season isn’t so much tied to love and harmony but to loss and loneliness.

Feeling the pressure from outside factors to conform to the glad tidings of the season may only feed into existing depression or sadness. Accepting our feelings may be one of the ways we can break free of the holiday “shoulds” and allow ourselves this time to do what we need to do. There are times when seasonal celebration isn’t what we need…and that’s okay.

Remember Self-Care

For many of us during the holidays, we commit to a number of parties; only to deeply regret our decisions when the time comes to dress up and go. We quickly find ourselves suffering at the hand of loud and crowded parties dreaming of sweatpants, a good movie, and a big bowl of popcorn. Sound familiar?

The old adage of helping ourselves first before helping others applies to the holiday season as well. If our instinct is to decline the party for the couch and a comforter, we may be in great need of some rest and relaxation. Once we care for ourselves we can more effectively care for our families (and enjoy every minute of it).

Give (In Other Ways)

Although giving to others is a great way to enhance quality of life, our society focuses on the biggest and most expensive holiday gifts. Advertisements touting the perfect gift “for her” are now suggesting the new model SUV or diamond necklace. Who has that kind of money?

The most meaningful gifts are the gifts of time and attention. Giving experiences may be more beneficial than giving things. Moreover, giving to those less fortunate is a great way of helping our neighbours while benefiting from health benefits that comes with giving. Remember, the spirit of giving isn’t about how much we spend but how much of ourselves we give to others.

RP, Registered Psychotherapist

Greg has a master's degree in counselling psychology and is a registered psychotherapist in Ontario where he's been practicing with individuals and couples for 15 years. He specializes in evidence-based treatments such as CBT and mindfulness, and produces a variety of online self-help content you can find on ( and twitter (@GregDorter).

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