Mindful Kids, Parenting and Relationships, Mindfulness, Minimalism

How to Simplify the Season – The Ultimate Guide

Think back to past holiday seasons. What do you remember?

Sadly, I admit that although I have some wonderful and fond memories, I also remember stress, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and lots of running around. Oh, and trying to work through my never-ending to-do list of things I just HAD to do.

When did the holiday season become filled with ‘must-do’ items? When did putting up holiday decorations become an item to check off on the to-do list?

I know I’m not alone. In fact, when I went to research statistics about stress and anxiety during the holidays, a quick Google search found 44 million results. That means there is enough holiday stress and anxiety that there is that much content out there!

how to reduce holiday stress

According to this article, here are some of the things we stress about over the holidays:

“68%: Crowds and long lines
37%: Gaining weight
37%: Getting into debt
28%: Gift shopping
25%: Traveling
24%: Seeing certain relatives
23%: Seasonal music
16%: Having to attend holiday parties or events”

Additionally, a poll taken on this site found that “more than 80% of us find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful — that ranks navigating the holidays right up there with asking for a raise! What is it that has us all so hot and bothered?”

That is a LOT of us feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed during what is ‘supposed’ to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year (if you could hear my tone, you would hear a sarcastic cadence while saying that sentence).

how to decrease holiday stress

Note: This post generally focuses on tips on how to have a simple Christmas, simply (ha) because that’s where my experience comes from. However, these tips can be applicable to any holiday, holiday season, or event. 

I used to be like that too. While I was super excited about the holidays, I also felt the stress. I had unrealistic expectations. Felt the need to get everything done. And then by the time Christmas rolled around, it was done. And I often found myself wondering why I spent so much time worrying and stressing instead of trying to enjoy that time?

Not only does it waste our time, it can also cause a negative impact on our health. According to one source: “Easing up on yourself over the holidays is important because the connection between stress and illness is real”.

For me personally, it wasn’t until Little E (my son) was born that I officially decided that my to-do list and unrealistic expectations weren’t going to run the show. That I was going to reduce a lot of the things that caused me such stress and anxiety. And you know what? The past couple of years (Little E is 3) have been so enjoyable, and I actually remember doing the things I LOVE to do during the holidays versus just remembering the stress and anxiety.

how can I reduce holiday stress

So how do we move forward to simplify things,  reduce stress and anxiety, and actually enjoy our holiday season? How can we reduce stress this holiday season?

Check out my tips on how to keep Christmas simple (or any other holiday):

Keep expectations in check

While I was researching for this post, a common theme I saw throughout each article was around expectations. Unrealistic expectations seem to have a huge impact on us during the holidays.

According to one article: “We tend to blame worsening traffic, crowded malls, and incessant commercials pushing holiday consumption, but a key culprit is our own memories… “When we think about the holidays, we dwell on the past and what went wrong, or we romanticize it and make it impossible to re-create,” he says.”

how to simplify the holidays

Another says: “Holiday stress can affect anyone, even children. There are a lot of expectations around the holidays. Many people associate the holidays with social gatherings, rituals, and happy memories. These expectations can lead to stress.”

I used to want to give the perfect gifts. I wanted to host the perfect gatherings. I wanted to do ALLLLL the traditions and would get upset when one didn’t happen. But all those thoughts of being ‘perfect’ ended up with me being stressed. And you know what else? My holidays weren’t destroyed because I didn’t get to participate in a particular tradition.

There is no such thing as perfect, and that’s OK. No one is perfect, so when you show you’re not perfect, it helps people relax even more. It helps others see you as a normal person.

ways to reduce holiday stress

I’m not saying it’s not OK to strive for anything amazing, but having unrealistic expectations is only going to lead to heartache.

So, don’t get upset when your little one doesn’t watch your favorite holiday movie (The Muppets Christmas Carol) that you planned an entire night of fun, holiday activities around (not speaking from personal experience, of course). It’s only going to ruin the night, the memory, and cause stress.

easy ways to reduce holiday stress

Dealing with Others

Seeing certain people, attending tons of gatherings, and/or having people over can be very stressful (especially in this political climate). And let’s not forget just the fact of having to go out in public with tons of other people, standing in crazy long lines, etc. can be stress-inducing.

My tips for this is to try and reduce the overall amount of time you spend with people who cause you stress. It’s OK to put yourself first in these types of situations.

  • Reduce the number of errands you have to run. Maybe you take advantage of grocery delivery and online shopping.
  • Limit the number of gatherings you attend with 4 Guilt-Free Ways to Say No
  • If you have to attend a particular gathering that you know will bring you stress, set a time limit and stick to it. Just because you may feel obligated to go doesn’t mean you have to stay the entire time.
  • If you find people are stressing you out, a habit that may not be helping is going on social media. Give yourself and your mind a break with my 7 Ways to Detach from Social Media
  • I hesitated to put this one on the list, because the holidays may not be the best time to start decluttering people in your life, but then again, I thought that maybe it WOULD be a perfect time. If you’re in a situation where you need to remove someone toxic from your life, check out these tips here: Do you need to de-clutter your friend list? | Guest Post

ways to enjoy the holiday season

Overall, you may not be able to completely deal with others during the holidays, but there are a number of things you can do to help make these types of interactions less stressful.

how to enjoy the holiday season

Other Negative Emotions Surrounding the Holidays (hurt, pain, loneliness)

It is important to remember that stress, anxiety, and overwhelm aren’t the only negative emotions that can be associated with the holidays. Hurt, pain, and loneliness can also be common for some people; maybe even you.

In fact, one source says: “…the holidays can also be a difficult time of the year for people who have lost friends and family members. The memory of their loss can add to other sources of stress and hurt even more.”

For others, they may not have many friends or family in town. Maybe all or most have passed away. Or maybe they don’t keep in touch with any family members. Loneliness can cause lots of negative emotions surrounding the holidays, especially if someone feels like they NEED to be enjoying the time.

how to reduce stress at christmas

So what can you do?

  • Show compassion towards those who may not feeling any excitement around the holidays. It may not be the joyous time that we assume it is for everyone.
  • If you know of anyone who has experienced loss and is having difficulties coping with the holidays, make sure they know you are there for them.
  • Don’t force anyone into doing anything they don’t want to do
  • If you are worried, encourage them to join a support group or talk to a professional
  • Invite people over, and don’t be offended if they decline
  • If you know of someone who doesn’t have a lot of people in their lives, in town, or any other scenario where someone may be feeling lonely, reach out and invite them to your gatherings. Tis the season of giving!
  • If you can relate to any of the scenarios mentioned above, go easy on yourself.
    • Reach out to friends/family
    • Take care of yourself
    • Don’t be afraid to say no
    • Don’t feel like you need to live up to any expectations

how to avoid stress at christmas

I wrote a full post on feeling down/sad during the holidays. This post is perfect for if you can identify feeling like this, or if you know someone who isn’t looking forward to the holidays. You can check out the post here:

What to do if you Feel Sad During the Holidays (with 10 Actionable Tips to help Cope)


Self-care is important for any time of the year, but especially when you know you may be prone to any negative emotions.

Here are some great ways you can partake in self-care this holiday season (and again, year round!):

how to avoid stress during christmas

Avoid Overscheduling

When it comes to overscheduling, the simplest fix is to just say no. I know that can be hard; I struggled with it for a long time. But, once I got clear on why it was important to me not to overcommit (more time for me, my family, and my hobbies), it became pretty easy. To help you, I’ve compiled my 4 Guilt-Free Ways to Say No which contains the tips I use on a daily basis!

I like to ask myself: if I say yes to every gathering, even ones I don’t really want to go to, is that fair to the host? To myself?

how to enjoy christmas alone

Staying Healthy

Keeping your normal workout, sleeping, and eating routines are especially important this time of year.

Temptations in the form of delicious treats, holiday cheer in the form of alcohol, and rich foods surround us. Overscheduling (see above) can leave us with not enough time to workout or for ourselves (mentally). Even if we don’t overschedule, holiday events can keep us up late, affecting our sleep.

how to enjoy christmas again

All these temptations can lead to: “Headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and insomnia, which can add up to even more holiday stress” (source).

Making sure you get enough sleep, healthy foods, and movement for your body can only help with your stress and anxiety around the holidays!

how to enjoy christmas with no money


Money is a huge stressor for lots of people year round. But the added pressure of buying gifts and other items associated with the holidays can add on even more stress.

How can you help with your stress surrounding money?

  • Check out this article ‘How to Avoid Holiday Financial Stress ‘ by my blogger friend Paula from I’m Busy Being Awesome. She has some great advice on this exact topic.
  • Reconsider gift giving.
    • Are there certain people you could spend time grabbing a treat somewhere instead? Or just getting together for a potluck at someone’s home?
    • Are there people you can comfortably explain you would rather not exchange gifts this year?
    • Cut back on the number of gifts you give. For my family, we have one present that Santa brings, and the stockings are all consumables or necessities. For the other gifts, we follow the rule ‘something you want, something you need, something you wear, and something you read’. And that’s it!
    • Lots of DIY gifts can be VERY budget friendly! Pinterest has a ton of ideas
    • Secondhand gifts can also be a great option. Not only are you saving money, but you are also reducing waste!
    • Try to engage in free holiday activities. One of my favorite things to do is drive around looking at Christmas lights and snowshoeing.

how to enjoy christmas without family

Gift Giving

Speaking of gift giving, this can be an area of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm for many of us. Trying to find the perfect gift, having a lot of people on your list to buy for, wrap, etc., fitting gift giving in with lifestyle journeys such as zero waste living and minimalism, and more!

I’ve put together these two gift guides to fall in line with anyone who is trying to reduce waste and clutter, or simply looking for unique gift ideas!

Additionally, I have ideas on how to reduce waste and save money on gift wrap!

how to help fight climate change

General Tips

Want even MORE resources to help combat negative holiday feelings? Check out these here:

how to enjoy christmas with family

Holiday Specific

Looking for resources for a specific holiday? Check out my posts here:

The Ultimate Guide to a Zero Waste Halloween

10 Useful and Simple Tips for a Zero Waste Thanksgiving

How to Create a Vision Board and How it Works

While there are so many ways to feel negative emotions around the holidays, there are also many things you can do to intentionally simplify and enjoy this time of year.

What is your favorite way to simplify the season?

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the ultimate guide on how to simplify the season

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Wendy Tomlinson
4 years ago

Great post. Keeping my expectations in check is a big one for me. I tend to have this perfect scene in my head and then if anythings doesn’t go toplanned I can get super stressed and upset.


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