12 Ways To Cope With Holiday Overwhelm

If you feel all jingle-jangly inside during the festive holidays rather than joyously wanting to sing "Jingle Bells," then you're not alone. In fact, a 2018 study by OnePoll found that an astonishing 88% of those surveyed found Christmas to be one of the most stressful times of the year (via PR Newswire). 

Beyond the romantic notion of real fires, cozy times with loved ones, and fine feasting, there's all the strain of paying for everything, with so many extras on the shopping list. Choosing presents, spending time with others, and catering for more people more often than usual aren't always moments of Christmas celebration. Aside from there being so much to do in such a short space of time, there's the emotional side of the holidays to contend with. 'Tis not the season to be merry for all, it seems. Between money issues, loneliness, family tensions, social expectation, and the cold weather, it can all feel too much. Arguments focus on what you might expect, such as where to spend Christmas and who to spend it with. Other issues include certain conversation topics, as well as more practical chores such as cooking, getting ready for guests, and cleaning up. 

But before you channel your inner Scrooge, scowl, and say "Bah, humbug!": Here are some ways to cope with holiday overwhelm, so that whether you're driving home or inviting guests to your place for Christmas, you'll exit the yuletide season with your mental health and well-being intact.

Celebrate New Year alone without feeling lonely

Being alone isn't the same as feeling lonely, because everyone knows that it's possible to feel isolated with others around you. However, it's understandable that certain times of the year (such as the festive period) can be emotionally challenging if you're solo. 

Whether it's because you just don't have a great network, are an introvert, or possibly have a small family, there are plenty of reasons why people find themselves on their lonesome on New Year's Eve. You might be ill, or don't have money to go out and party, or live in a place that makes it difficult to meet up with others. One reason for not being around others at this time of year is social anxiety. Sufferers can still celebrate New Year alone without feeling lonely, according to About Social Anxiety, as long as you manage the holiday with a few practical strategies.

Make the effort to treat yourself, because you're worth it. Turn alone time into valuable me time, whether it's enjoying your favorite food or curling up in your pyjamas and feeling cosy. This is a perfect time to think about the year ahead and come up with some big intentions that are going to really define and create big changes in your future. Think about how you can alter your relationships. Also, this is the digital age, so embrace technology and connect with others via the virtual world, knowing you can switch off whenever you like.

Simplify activities by prioritizing

Human beings often have a habit of making life complicated, and with it comes a lot of stress. Pile on the extra pressure of the festive holidays, and you've got a red-faced, sweating emoji of an emotion jumping around inside your head. 

If a lot of your difficulty around this time is essentially because there's just too much to do and you're struggling to juggle it all, then the simple answer might be to just stop and do less. That's right: It may sound impossible, but The Simplicity Habit encourages you to cope with this overwhelm by adopting some prioritizing techniques and even some scheduling. 

Don't just follow the tradition that Christmas and New Year have to be times of total mayhem, leaving you feeling totally exhausted. They don't, as long as you're clear on your priorities. This means really taking time to stand back and ask yourself (and perhaps your partner and family) what you want the festive holidays to look and feel like. In other words, anchor all that you do to these particular points of reference. With this in mind, commit to plans such as social events and any other activities in a way that doesn't dilute your intentions. "You don't need to do it all" is a mantra for simplicity, and perhaps even a more meaningful holiday season. Remember, stress doesn't equate to enjoyment — and doing more can sometimes give you a lot less happiness.

Find pockets of me time

Some people find big groups, or even small gatherings, exhausting. Even if you're a big "people person," a consolidated amount of time spent with a mix of different ages, personalities, and relationships in a confined space can prove taxing, to say the least. Add the task of organizing a holiday feast, and it can all just be too much. 

Beyond Christmas Day, New Year's Eve parties can be intense, especially if you're the host. Then there are the different social, work, and family commitments that can seem relentless at times. All the while, you're trying to be your sparkling self. Before you run into the kitchen and silently scream, Quiet Revolution suggests finding some quiet space for yourself. In fact, you can do this even when surrounded by others, and without upsetting anyone.  

Make it a plan of action to find someplace to escape to if you're feeling overwhelmed after being around too many other people. Whether you're at your house or someone else's, there'll be somewhere you can retreat to and dip out of socializing. You may not be able to find quiet, but you can definitely find a space that requires you to interact less, even if this is around a bunch of kids (as long as they're ignoring you, of course). Another tactic is to offer to make drinks or some other task that lets you take off on your own.

Practice gratitude to enhance your mood

If you're feeling steamrolled by the thought of the holidays, let alone dealing with the stress when it arrives all packaged in a festive bow, you're hardly going to feel grateful. This might be a time of year that encourages everyone to get together, share the love, and feel thankful, but the reality might seem quite the opposite. As you're pulled in every direction in the name of happy festivities, you may begin to feel about as open-hearted as the Grinch. However, gratitude is a powerful tool for reducing stress and depression — and the holidays are a perfect time to practice it (via University of Utah Health). 

Gratitude boosts how you feel about yourself, and can also enhance your relationships. Think about how you feel when someone opens a Christmas present you've bought them. Pretty good, right? Showing your appreciation not only fosters better skills at dealing with the here and now: Research reveals that it reduces stress, too (per the American Psychological Association). 

But before you start showering glad tidings on everyone else during the holidays and telling them how wonderful they are, start with yourself. Being kind begins with you. Say a few positives about yourself each day, and try writing down what you feel gratitude about and toward to reinforce this feeling. Give yourself a pat on the back for being you, then share your good vibes with everyone else. 

Create boundaries for uncomfortable questions

Everyone can relate to the scenario of being around family and friends and having to dodge awkward conversations and unwanted questions about every aspect of their life. Singletons are quizzed about their relationship status; even if well-intentioned, this can make them feel freakishly alone. Childless couples are sometimes given the third degree about when they're thinking of starting a family. Even parents can feel under the cosh when questioned about the behavior of their kids. And then there's queries about work, politics, social issues, religion, real estate, lifestyle, and money. Chit chat over the turkey or at a New Year's Eve party over eggnog can feel like walking an emotional tightrope, even when there's no ill intent. 

Make sure you've got a safety net in place by following a few USA Today Life tips. It's always a good idea to be ready, and have your head in the right space. That means being aware of what subjects might feel intrusive if they're brought up, and which questions may create some element of stress. Get ready to respond, and do so in a way that works for you, rather than hoping subjects won't be brought up. Remember, it's up to you what information you want to offer, no matter how inquisitive (or downright nosy) someone else is. Put boundaries in place, stick to them, and don't go in for long, complex responses. Another good tactic is to change the subject altogether.

Manage your budget over the holidays

Money may make the world go 'round, but it can also make your world feel as if it's spinning in the wrong direction. If you overspend during the holidays, it can send your stress levels into overdrive. And if you just don't have the cash to fund the type of festive season you (or others around you) want, you can feel overflowing anxiety. 

A TD Bank survey (reported in a 2022 article from The Ascent) revealed that 69% of those who were surveyed had spent more than they should have during the holidays. Some 45% had overspent by at least $300. So, if your expenses don't always make sense over the holidays, the good news is that you're not alone. However, with living costs on the rise, you may want to ring in the changes and take some practical steps to avoid your festive budget bulging beyond your means. 

Start by setting a budget and refering all holiday spends back to this, from the cost of presents to activities and social events. Christmas is a wildly commercial time and the pressure to spend is strong, so be strong enough to bring it back to its roots and focus on invaluable relationships. Don't be afraid of being honest with yourself and with others about your financial limitations. This entails being real with yourself and not shying away from monetary realities you or others face (via The Street).

Change your expectations

Hopefully, this won't come as a big surprise, but no matter how hard you try, life isn't a Hallmark movie. While it's great to watch a Christmas rom-com full of perfect moments set against a backdrop of snow and twinkling fairy lights, everyone's festive season has its own narrative. 

Even if you start off not being sucked into the holiday fever, it's so easy for anxiety levels to snowball once you start planning. There's so much to think about, from food to fashion, family, and frivolity, not to mention decor, lights, a tree, and gifts. Psychology Today suggests being aware of the part you play and checking your emotional responses and behavior. That way, you're really shaping your experience through your own actions rather than demanding that others change. There's nothing wrong with having visions of joyous moments, wearing matching Christmas jumpers, and singing "White Christmas" with loved ones, Bing Crosby style. But if your expectations are too tightly defined, then trying to achieve them may be your undoing. In the same way, if you're fully expecting to have a terrible time, that's an overwhelmingly negative approach. 

The Mayo Clinic advises setting more grounded expectations. This means being clear about budgets and logistical arrangements, as well as accepting that people and situations change (so your ideas might have to, as well). Christmas isn't a time to sort out any complex issues, and it's best to remember that you can only control yourself, not others. 

Avoid overindulging

If you're a fan of the adage that Chrismas and New Year (and every day in between) are times to eat, drink, and be merry, chances are you're all set on festive indulgence. There's nothing wrong with a treat or two over the holidays, and for sure, it's probably not the most sensible time to start a strict dietary plan. However, holiday bingeing can actually exacerbate stress. If you change your diet over the holidays (and not in a good way), then you're also running the risk of feeling critical of yourself, which equates to guilt, which isn't exactly a stress-reliever. It can also have a negative impact on relationships. 

Eat something healthy before a big meal so you're less likely to overindulge, stay active, and stick to good habits like getting a good night's sleep (via Mayo Clinic). Be conscious of how much alcohol you're drinking and calories you're ingesting, and make sure you drink enough water. Make a concerted effort to prepare tasty yet healthy dishes. And when you do snack or enjoy special treats, avoid going overboard by designating certain occasions and times to do so. Just because there's enough Christmas pudding left to last you into January, doesn't mean you have to eat it every day for a month. Lastly, wear clothes that aren't too loose, so you know when you're full (via UC San Diego School of Medicine).

Accept those whom you find difficult

In theory, it'd be nice to think that people only spend the holidays with those that they care about, or at least like. In reality, though, there are many obligations, family ties, and commitments that dictate who you end up around the dinner table with at Christmas or wishing happy New Year to. That means that you may find yourself in the company of someone you dislike (or at the very least, find challenging and difficult) during the holidays. 

While you can't avoid them if they're at close quarters, what you can avoid is feeling defensive and uncomfortable as a result. The key is to not try and change or challenge them, according to Recovery Help Now. Instead, accept them by engaging in dialogue and not debate. This entails listening to someone, suspending your set assumptions, and accepting them.

A feature in Forbes suggests a strategy for dealing with someone you're less than keen on during the holidays. Remember not to react angrily, even if it's justified. It won't make a difference, and will only serve to make you feel bad. Also not recommended: blanking someone, as it can come off as rude, not only to them, but to others as well. What might just work is to be as charming as you can and simply steer conversations toward safer, less fractious grounds.

Share the burden

How do you usually feel by the time January swings round? Relaxed and happy after a joy-filled festive holiday? If so, then good for you, but if not, then are you suffering from burnout

So many people feel this way, simply because they're trying to do everything alone. Instead of sharing the burden of all that goes into making the festive season glow, are you putting it all on yourself? Think about all the organization, housework, cooking, and hosting involved. It's enough to make even the most capable want to hide under a duvet until it's all over. ABC Health & Wellbeing stresses how the brunt of this work is often on the shoulders of women. 

The solution? Stop trying to take charge of everything and delegate. It's easy to make an appraisal of all that needs to be done, understand the emotional importance of achieving a successful festive holiday, and then just jump in the driving seat. The problem is, if you put your foot down and go racing off, you may run out of gas before you reach your destination. When you feel overwhelmed at work, what do you do? Do you ask others to help so that you can focus on doing certain tasks well? Take an inclusive stance and assign some of the holiday chores to others, whether they're kids or grandparents. 

Be honest with how you feel

At one time or another, every person has put on a brave face or acted happier than they actually felt. You might have done it so as not to disappoint someone else, or as a way of getting through a difficult situation. You might have turned an inner frown upside down on the surface because of the expectations of others, or yourself, or the import of the occasion such as it being Christmas Day. After all, who wants to be around a miserable person during a joyous season? 

However, the problem with pretending you're full of cheer when you're not, is that it might actually be really negative for you. It's what an article in Harvard Business Review terms "toxic positivity" and explores in an interview with psychologist Dr. Laura Gallaher. And the takeaway: It's okay to not be okay.

If you try and keep real feelings hidden, then when they do surface, it can make waves that are destructive to you and others around you. And it's not good for your health to keep emotions and negativity locked in. People are pretty perceptive in general, and it's often easy to spot when someone's not being true to themselves or are being disingenous about how they feel. While you don't want to necessarily spill out that you're not feeling great to all and sundry, start by connecting with your own emotions. Being honest with someone you feel safe with can also help.

Get help if holiday overwhelm continues

The end of the year can be a time of reflection. It can also bring intense pressure, epecially during the festive season. When nighttime arrives, you might feel more like wrapping up warm and hibernating rather than being the life and soul of any party. With the holidays being potentially overwhelming, some stress may not be too much to worry about — unless the New Year doesn't bring a change of outlook, that is (via American Psychological Association). 

Anxiety and depression are quite different from feeling a bit down over the holidays. If you find that you hit a low that doesn't seem to disappear after you've taken the tinsel down, then it's worth keeping tabs on your emotions. By connecting with yourself this way, you're more easily able to spot the difference between a down period and a downward spiral into a situation that you might need some help climbing out of. 

Christmastime may trigger negative emotions that take you on a rollercoaster of anger, sadness, stress, and disappointment. While these may be related to feeling essentially overwhelmed, they often only temporarily affect your emotional self. Look after yourself this season, and deal with any post-holiday issues with care.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.