How to Survive the Holiday Season

With gifts to wrap, guests to host, and meals to plan, the holidays aren’t always a source of good cheer. But never fear: It is possible to stop stressing. “Your external environment might not feel very calm, but there are still many things you can do to bring about that sense of calm internally,” says Aditi Nerurkar, a stress expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Here, five ways to get through the most wonderful (and chaotic) time of year.

holiday stress advice

Illustration by Eric Palma

1. Do Less

No need to spend hours searching for a unique gift. Francesca Gino, a behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School who’s studied gift-giving, says that recipients value solicited presents—things on their wish list—as much as or more than unsolicited ones. Cold hard cash does the job, too.

2. Keep an Open Mind

Instead of dreading fraught dinner conversations with extended family, take life coach Hanneke Antonelli’s advice and try not to let other people’s behavior bring you down. “Head into the holidays with an open attitude of acceptance and forgiveness,” she says.

3. Treat Yourself

You don’t have to avoid goodies all season—just think before you eat. “The worst holiday treat is the one you don’t truly enjoy,” says registered dietitian Marci Anderson Evans. “Slow down and ask, ‘Do I even like this food?’” Grandma’s legendary fudge? Go for it. Packaged sugar cookies? Pass.

4. Snack Wisely

Once New Year’s resolutions set in, however, odds are good you’ll need to wean yourself off the sugar. Alicia Romano, a clinical registered dietitian at Tufts Medical Center, suggests slowly replacing the cakes and pies with fiber- and protein-rich snacks, like apple slices with peanut butter.

5. Take a Deep Breath

Weeks of holiday anxiety can take a toll on your health, leading to weight gain, poor sleep, and anxiety, Nerurkar explains. To recharge, she recommends getting a full night’s rest and making time for short bouts of exercise and meditation, even if it is between clicks on Amazon.