How to manage depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays: 7 great tips

7 tips to help you manage depression, anxiety, and stress  during the holidays

Back in 2012 when I had like 10 blog readers, I wrote this post. Many of you haven’t seen it before, but I have noticed lots of people googling and finding it recently. So, I figured it may help a bunch of you out there, and I’m republishing this (tweaked) post for you now. I hope my tips help decrease your holiday stress, anxiety, and depression – I’d love to hear what you think!


Like most moms, my stress level skyrockets during the holidays. I mean, don’t get me wrong. December can be fabulously fun. But those of us with small kids know it can also be fabulously stressful.

Shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, wrapping, helping with special school homework projects, planning, donating time … AHHHHHHH!!!!

No wonder we’re all feeling like we’re going to lose it. But for me and others who struggle with depression and anxiety, this time of year can be even tougher. I’ve been working really hard to fight off the feelings of panic and anxiety that have been creeping in. And I know it might sound crazy and unattainable, but I want to looooove the holidays, you know?

My kids are little. They love Santa and Christmas and decorating and making cookies. They want to be around me. Near me. Cuddling with me. I know they won’t be little for long. So I want to enjoy my girls, their holiday wonder, and the fact they think I’m the BEST THING EVER and still want to be around me all the time. Because someday I’m going to ask them to bake cookies, and I’ll get some big eye rolls as they continue to text their friends while never actually looking up at me.

I am not looking forward to that day.

Anyway, I kind of knew I would be feeling this way. So I find myself revisiting ideas I wrote down long ago for how to navigate this tough time. Over the past few days I’ve been following my own advice – and I have to say, I do feel much better. So whether you deal with depression and anxiety, or are a person who always gets really stressed during this time of year, I hope my ideas help you, too.

7 tips for decreasing depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays

1. Do just a few things well. Or maybe even just one thing. Especially during the holidays, we moms put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything and do it all perfectly. Lighten up on yourself, mama!

Don’t decorate the entire house from head to toe if it stresses you out – just focus on the living room and make that one room beautiful.

Do you really like sending out holiday cards? Or do you do it because you feel like you have to? If it’s the latter, save yourself the time and money and don’t send them this year. Aunt Edna will survive. Or she can get on Facebook like the rest of the world and see pics of your kids there.

Another idea: This year, instead of baking dozens of cookies from scratch, I bought pre-made dough. My kids only care about the part where they cut out the cookies and decorate them, anyway. Less effort for me, more fun for them.

Give yourself a break and take a few shortcuts. It’ll definitely cut down on the holiday stress.

2. Skip the “obligation” parties that stress you out. You know the party that a certain mom throws every year that everyone seems to go to? The one that requires you to dress “casual chic,” bring a Yankee Swap gift, bake six dozen cookies for an exchange, and bring a bottle of wine and a homemade appetizer?

Yeah, that party. Skip it. Along with any other parties that aren’t actually fun. Parties should be FUN, remember?

3. Don’t overcommit to volunteer activities. Sign up for one extra activity. Volunteer at the food pantry. OR your kid’s classroom holiday party. OR the community Santa parade. Remember, you are not the only person in your community who can volunteer. You do not have to carry the load. Pick one and feel good about your contribution.

4. Don’t make any big changes. Now is not the time to try a new antidepressant (unless your doctor really recommends it), paint a room in your house, or get a pixie haircut. For the love of God, woman, don’t set yourself up for disaster. Wait until a (much) less stressful time.

5. Get some alone time. And I’m not talking about going to the grocery store alone. Or holiday shopping for anyone (who isn’t you). I’m talking about plopping your butt in a coffee shop and reading a book for two hours.

Ask someone, anyone who is remotely trustworthy, to watch the kids – and get out of your house and away from all your obligations so you can decompress for a little while. This is good for everyone, but especially depression sufferers – it can really help to reset your mood.

6. Try to turn a sad moment into a nice memory. This one is hard, I know. But here’s what I did a couple years ago: I was feeling really down about my dad’s death and him not being around. He loved Christmas so much. I was dissolving into tears when I noticed the bowl of walnuts I had out – and remembered how my dad loved cracking open walnuts with me when I was a kid.

So I poured myself some eggnog (his favorite), cracked open some walnuts, and listened to Christmas music for 10 minutes while my kids sledded outside. It eased the sadness to do something that reminded me of my dad, instead of just sitting on the couch and bawling.

7. Exercise and sleep. No, I’m not kidding. I am 100% serious, mama. I know, I know, how is there time to sleep, let alone exercise? But if you are dealing with depression and/or anxiety, sleep and exercise are CRUCIAL.

It’s hard to drag my butt to Zumba on a weeknight after the kids are in bed. But I am doing it. I’m also power walking an afternoon or two with my neighbor as we push our kids in strollers. And I can tell you – I am feeling so much better over the last few days. I guarantee it’s the exercise. You know, exercise, endorphins, blah, blah, blah. It’s true.

Sleep is no joke, either. Put down the laundry basket, stop wrapping gifts, and enough with cleaning the kitchen. (Or if you’re me – step away from the Internet.) Just Go To Bed. It’ll all still be there in the morning. And no one will be the worse for it if it doesn’t get done – except you.

Are you doing anything this month to ease the stress of the holidays? What ideas can you add to this list?

PS – If reading funny holiday stuff helps you de-stress, check out this post on how NOT to get a great holiday card photo of your kids, and my (fictional) humble brag Christmas card letter I wrote for Jen at People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Plus you can read about why my Elf on the Shelf is defective. And naughty. Happy holidays!

photo credit: Altweibersommer via photopin cc

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11 Replies to “How to manage depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays: 7 great tips”

  1. This is an awesome list and can serve anyone well through the Holidays. Even those of us who normally go through life without depression sometimes get down and overwhelmed during the Holidays. I know for myself as a single mom there have been many years where it was tough to feel joyful even though I wanted to.

  2. Alas, my biggest wishes for the holidays are not likely to be answered. Those would be: (1) to move the registration renewal for my now 25 year old car out of December! Not the time I want to be schlepping it to state inspections and digging up personal property tax receipts [or fixing my printer so I could reprint them] and the insurance policy and waiting in line at the DMV. And they don’t you do it early– but then, that would slam me into Thanksgiving– little improvement there.

    And even more, I wish for the powers that be (2) to move the dreaded Affordable Care Act renewal out of December! It’s still a hideous process for those of us dependent on it, esp. in my state; I should leave politics out of this, but my very red state had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this thing, so no state exchange and no expanded medicaid and no state battling of the very limited, narrow-coverage offerings that exclude all my most important docs and have ginormous deductibles that exceed what I paid for my car… Having to spend that time screaming at the computer and taking feverish notes and calling for clarification destroyed last yrs Christmas and New Year’s for me, and it’s doing its best again this year…

    I mean, if you could pick the 2 entities you’d LEAST like to have cross paths with the holidays, wouldn’t the DMV and insurance companies only be surpassed by an ICU and an undertaker?
    Thanks for your great columns… They help.

  3. Thank you for sharing this again. This time of year is difficult, with all the hoop-la (tried to use a nice word!) going on. The tips are awesome but I love to know there are others out there like me.
    Merry Christmas!

  4. These are great tips! Even if you do not suffer from anxiety or depression, the added stress can weigh you down.

    The exercising is a tough one for me! (Just in general, but especially lately!). Last year this time was about the time I stopped–after being on a great run since late August (2013) but this year I am a LUMP. And it sucks. I HATE the way I feel, but I just can't get motivated!!!

  5. You can add watch what you eat too. Eating healthy foods goes a long way to fortifying our bodies to deal with whatever life throws at us. When healthy eating is combined with sufficient sleep and exercise, you have a good stress-busting recipe. 🙂

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