Free Subscription to Debbie Mandel's Acclaimed Wellness Newsletter

How To Deal With Holiday Stress

By Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel

The days are shorter, the weather colder and the countdown begins to the holidays. The malls are filled with beautifully decorated boutiques. Music and fragrances combine to get us in the holiday spirit. Outside, chestnuts are roasting over an open fire, so why aren’t we happy? Why do we feel anxious and a bit wistful?

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The halcyon days of summer are gone and daylight is decreased. Some of us are prone to SAD, seasonal affective disorder and need to get out daily into natural light even for a short time to counteract depressed feelings. Although the days are shorter, we tend to ignore our natural rhythms to wind down with the onset of night, to go to bed earlier. Along with technology comes the ability to override our biorhythms, but there is an emotional price to be paid: stress. The solution is a combination of maximizing our exposure to sunlight and getting more rest, listening to our bodies when they are fatigued because of darkness and cold weather.

Unrealistic Expectations

We have unrealistic expectations for the holidays; life will be idyllic. Hollywood and traditional songs have set our imaginations into motion. We imagine that we will have a traditional holiday dinner with our loved ones and extended families. No one will argue and everyone will act lovingly. Children and pets will rest at our feet as we toast one another and eat delightful petit fours. However, because of our poetic visualizations, the holidays don’t stand a chance! We are setting ourselves up for failure with fantasy. By lowering our expectations for the holidays we are able to see people and settings realistically. We can perceive and appreciate the little things. Whatever benefit arises, becomes a bonus. We stop comparing what once existed in the past, or what we once were, to what is in the here and now. Because all that matters for us is the moment, living in the present is our greatest present. When we stop comparing, we grow happier, content with what we have.

With this in mind, de-stressing can be facilitated by writing a different kind of holiday list. We could list the things we appreciate. Then we could write another list, the things we used to appreciate, but are now taking for granted. We would then change our perception. For perception is the key to achieving peace and happiness: Is the cup half full or half empty?


The economics of the holidays can overwhelm us. Materialism gets confused with an expression of love. Parents pay a premium for the hot new toys, often wrestling another parent to the ground for the last one in the store. Many of us cannot afford to give expensive presents to all the special people in our lives. This year has been a particularly difficult year for many people affected by layoffs and the severe decline in the financial markets. The pressure of gift giving saps the joy of “it is better to give than to receive.” The solution is actually quite simple and basic: Buy or create a beautiful card with an individualized message and give a special coupon as a gift. For example your coupon might read: To be redeemed for a candle light dinner in my house, or To be redeemed for a picnic in the country, or This coupon entitles the bearer to a gift of patience where I will not lose my temper, or This coupon entitles the bearer to a night out with the boys, or Having the dishes washed and the kitchen cleaned on three separate occasions. Gifts can be natural and symbolic of the recipient. For example, use your imagination to create a basket incorporating the five senses. Simplify and strip away ostentation to reveal the “soul” inherent in the gift. Have fun brainstorming ideas for heartfelt gifts as opposed to spending extravagantly.

Deficient Diet and Lack of Exercise

To combat holiday stress, eat healthy and exercise. Sugar and white processed foods will cause you to cycle up and down as well as deplete your immune system. Bolster your energy levels by eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake. Then make sure to do some physical exercise everyday. You do not have to lift weights in a gym, although that is certainly desirable to combat osteoporosis and build strength. You do not have to take an aerobics class, run on a treadmill or use a stair climber, although that is certainly heart smart. Exercise can be accomplished as simply as parking your car farther away from your destination and walking; using stairs instead of elevators and escalators and keep moving. And if you feel stressed about not being able to control your appetite at holiday parties, eat fruit and drink water before you go out! Another helpful hint is to avoid eating deserts without protein and fiber. Otherwise you will soon feel hungry again and perpetuate the cycle.

Time Pressures

Don’t surrender to the last minute shopping stampede. Give yourself plenty of time to reflect, make purchases and run errands. When we give ourselves deadlines, we increase the pressure and decrease the joy. Time is subjective. When we are having fun, we lose track of time. When we are miserable, time seems an eternal sentence. To create more time and space start meditating. Five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. You will be creating a restful awareness, feeling as though you have been away on a vacation. As you meditate, you breathe in and out rhythmically to bring attention to your breath. Then you can observe your thoughts float by, as you witness them. An image, a word or a sound might appear to provide a clue or guidance for what you are feeling, or you might dream about it later. You will shed the stress of the holiday countdown, for you have transcended it and observed how little it matters in the ultimate of scheme of things. Enjoy the journey.

Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Brooklyn College. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WLIR 92.7 FM in New York City and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: