Academic and Staff Assistance Program Offers Tips for Holiday Stress

Crowd of people moving through railway terminal.
Holiday travel can create stress, officials with the Academic and Staff Assistance Program say. (Getty Images)

The holidays are in full swing. For many of us, this time of year means increased activities and demands on our time. Some of these are certainly enjoyable, like visiting with favorite friends and family members, giving and receiving gifts, and sampling our favorite holiday treats. Others are a bit more stressful and a lot less fun, like fighting crowds, worrying about money, overindulging in food and drink, and dragging ourselves to various obligatory social functions.

Carol Kirshnit
Carol Kirshnit

The ads are full of images of happy people who seem to be reveling in the spirit of the season, surrounded by friends and loved ones. If our experience of this time of year doesn’t match these images, it’s easy to feel out of step with the world, as if there is something wrong with us. The holidays are often times when people get together with family. While this can be wonderful, it can also be stressful and challenging. It’s no wonder that therapists are typically pretty busy during and after the holiday season.

In short, this time of year can be stressful, and when we are stressed, we need to be sure we are coping in the best ways possible. When it gets the best of us, we can fall victim to methods that are less-than-perfect.

Decide your limits — don’t over-schedule


The holiday season is a time of parties and other social gatherings. Remember that you don't have to do it all. Figure out what you really enjoy versus what you feel obliged to do. Focus the majority of your energy and time on activities that are fun for you and do your best to limit or avoid those activities that are less enjoyable. Your happiness is an important consideration in planning how you spend your time.

Simplify travel and limit car time

Travel can be especially stressful during the holiday season. If you have to travel, do what you can to make it as easy as possible on yourself. Try to get direct flights or at least minimize the number of stops along the way. You'll avoid the stress of having to rush from one plane to the next or having to wait around for long periods of time. Many people complain about spending too much time in the car during the holiday season, driving from one gathering to the next trying to see everyone. This can be exhausting. If possible, limit your driving to one or two events that you truly want to attend. It’s part of setting healthy boundaries and keeping a reasonable schedule.

Manage gift-giving

For many, the holidays are a time of gift giving. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also be financially stressful. Do your best to make a budget and stay within the spending limits that you have set. You’re not obligated to spend beyond your means, and you will very likely regret it if you do. Even a small gift lets people know you cherish them. Bigger is not necessarily better. Consider making gifts instead of buying them. Thoughtful handmade gifts and homemade goodies are often appreciated and the process of preparing them can become a fun holiday tradition for you. 

Be responsible about food and alcohol consumption

Do your best to stick with healthy eating choices. Moderation is the key, especially with holiday treats and alcohol. Many of us succumb to the pressure to overeat and-or drink to excess during the holidays. Try to stay within your usual guidelines for healthy eating and responsible drinking. Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.

Enjoy family

While it can be enjoyable to see family during the holidays, some people find extended family time to be stressful. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. If necessary, take a break from the gathering. Go for a walk. Call someone you really enjoy talking to. Take some alone time if you need it.

Respect differences

We all have different perspectives on a variety of things and there’s quite a lot that can divide us and bring tension to social gatherings. Do your best to find and focus on our common ground. We are all better for our efforts to seek peace and understanding with one another.

Take time for yourself

Consider giving yourself the gift of time during the holidays. Take a break from the rushing around, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Take time out to read a good book, watch your favorite movie, go for a bike ride, or take a nap.

Honor the losses of the year

The holidays can be especially challenging for those of us who have lost loved ones this year. Be sure to make space for your grief. Consider changing up your traditions to make your feelings of loss more manageable and-or find a new way to weave in the memory of your loved one into your existing holiday traditions.

Don’t forget routine maintenance

Get plenty of sleep. Eat regularly. Exercise. Get a massage. Meditate. Don't forget to breathe.

Reach out if you need help

If the stress of the holiday season is getting to be too much and-or you need a safe space to get some emotional support, please reach out to the Academic and Staff Assistance Program at 530-752-2727 in Davis or 916-734-2727 in Sacramento.

Take good care, stay well, and happy holidays!

Media Resources

Carol Kirshnit is the director of the Academic and Staff Assistance Program at UC Davis and UC Davis Health. More information about the program is available online.

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