7 Ways We Fight Stress During the Holidays

In our seven years together, my husband and I have grown up from two party-all-night singles to a married couple with a kid, pets, and responsibilities both financial and familial. All of a sudden, it seems, we’ve gone from the happy recipients of a bunch of holiday gifts and the satisfied dinner guests at our parents’ homes for various festive meals to frantic hosts, Santa Claus stand-ins, and the payers of astronomical heating bills among other winter stresses.

To save our sanity, we’ve devised some simple ways to keep the drama — and holiday stress — at bay from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. Both separately and together, we return to these seven methods throughout the crazy, fun, expensive, and festive holiday season.


1. Set boundaries with family and friends. My hubby and I have a rule — we never accept an invitation to so much as an after-work holiday drink until we’ve discussed it with each other. With so many office parties, birthdays (our daughter’s is in late November and my husband’s is in December!), Hanukkah, and Christmas celebrations on deck this season, we have to be careful about what we say “yes” to. We turn down a lot in order to maintain a sense of calm and keep our calendar from getting too stuffed.

2. Plan a “working brunch.” This was our go-to when we were planning our wedding and we still do it at busy times of year like this one. We pick a Sunday to sit down at a quiet, local restaurant with notepads in hand and budget in mind. Over eggs and coffee that we don’t have to prepare or clean up, we go through each of our “deliverables” — from the financial breakdown of whose paycheck is being spent on the groceries for which potluck to when our holiday cards need to go out. Once it’s all been said and assigned, we can each trust each other to get our respective “duties” taken care of and we instantly feel less stressed.

3. Make a gift list and stick to it. Throughout the months leading up to the season, I’ll keep a draft in my email with gifts I’d like to procure for various family members and friends. But I sit down exactly once at the beginning of the holiday season and pen a list of people, gifts, and prices. Once it’s done, I can start shopping and check things off as I go. The more I stress over gifting plans, the less genuine happiness I’m able to infuse into the season. Once my list is checked off, I toss it and get wrapping.

4. Establish a nightly “No Phone Zone.” Each year at this time, we reinstate this important routine. Phones and tablets go directly into a basket when my husband walks through the door at the end of the day. For at least an hour, we are off social media, texts, and e-mail. I can’t lie — we have each been caught sneaking our phones to the bathroom when the other isn’t looking, but overall this practice is a great way to create emotional space and focus on the most important part of the season: family.

5. Create a quiet, sacred holiday tradition for our little fam. Sounds crazy when families start multiplying and neighbors become close friends, but my husband and I have our own sweet ritual each year, and looking forward to it gives me an immediate sense of calm. For us, it’s stockings and a viewing of Love, Actually with wine and cheese for dinner on December 23. Everything will be done by then and I can enjoy my two favorite people at home in peace; it’s the perfect way to kick off a week of travel, noise, and revelry with our extended tribe.

6. Take a day off from our daughter. We are planning to leave our daughter for an overnight on my husband’s birthday two days after Christmas. We’ll go out to dinner, perhaps see a movie, and just relax as a couple. I know we’ll spend so much time focusing on photographs, gifts, and treats for our little girl this season, it will make us both feel taken care of to spend a night reconnecting, just us two.

7. And on that note, take some time off from everything. Whether it’s a yoga class, a trip to the nail salon, or even a few hours to do holiday shopping alone, we each plan to create some space in an upcoming weekend where we can be alone with our thoughts. I’ll relish the chance to listen to grown-up music, loud, in my car, and just…be. Despite the joy and spirit of the season, it can be a lot. I’m hoping to build in at least a few hours of self-care when I can, and return to my pack smiling and ready to enjoy some eggnog and cuddles.

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