Office of Research

Bring down your holiday stress levels

Published November 22, 2011

URBANA - Shopping, decorating, gift wrapping, cooking, baking, visiting with loved ones, card writing and mailing, and attending holiday events! No wonder the holidays can cause so much stress, said Cheri Burcham, a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.

"Holidays have great meaning in our lives and are great for helping us reconnect with loved ones, friends, and valued traditions, but they can also bring a lot of stress into our lives--enough stress that some of us wish we could just skip them for a year or so," she said.

Burcham said four recurring messages keep popping up in the research she's done on lowering stress levels over the holidays so we can enjoy them the way they're meant to be.

1. Set realistic goals for what you can accomplish each day. Don't set yourself up for failure by expecting to complete too many goals in too little time.

2. Remember to build down time into your schedule. People get very grouchy when they're tired, so build in at least 15 minutes of alone time with no distractions. Just getting in a good stretch or taking a short cat nap can be refreshing.

3. Simplify! It's okay to use paper plates this year instead of the good china or to buy the rolls instead of making them from scratch.

4. Don't abandon healthy habits. You continue to need daily exercise and adequate rest, especially during the holidays when everyone tends to overeat and overindulge.

Other ideas for keeping stress at a minimum this holiday season include:

1. Modify your holiday cooking habits. Try making casseroles and meals that you can freeze ahead of time. Freeze sugar cookies and save the decorating for later. Host a potluck-style dinner instead of cooking everything yourself.

2. Trade off holiday shopping time with another family. Babysit each other's children so you can have quality time to shop.

3. Delegate duties and don't try to do everything on your own.

4. Set differences aside and accept family members and friends as they are. Holiday times may not be the right time to bring up grievances and try to solve past issues.

5. Learn to say no, or at least "I need to think about it."

"Finally, always keep your sense of humor! This will help you keep the atmosphere light and put a different perspective on the situations that can come up. I wish all of you readers a happy, stress-free holiday season!" she said.