Stressed mom during the holidays"There’s no place like home for the holidays.” This perennial seasonal song evokes memories of special foods, cherished traditions, and celebrations with family and friends. But the holidays can also conjure up images of frantic preparations, frazzled partygoers, and bruised family interactions. Routines are disrupted. Holiday socializing squeezes already tight schedules. And a year of careful budgeting can implode with one got-to-get-a-gift shopping spree.

To spread holiday cheer instead of holiday frenzy, focus on choices that reduce tension.

“Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead, and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression,” according to the Mayo Clinic website ( Reading those words prompted me to explore those three suggestions.

Be Realistic

Instead of yielding to glossy images of what the holidays “should be,” keep your expectations manageable.

  • Acknowledge your limitations. Be honest about the time and energy you have. Energy is like money in the bank: if you spend it on “x,” you have less to spend on “y.”
  • Review your itinerary item by item, asking: How important is it? Who am I doing it for? Will the satisfaction be worth the effort? Is there a simpler way to achieve the same effect? Some items on your list will be non-negotiable, and that’s fine. Eliminate the non-essentials.

Plan Ahead

Next, sit down to strategize.

  • What’s most important? What can be done ahead? These things should top your list.
  • What’s likely to get lost in the bustle? Post reminders to yourself (and others) where you will see what needs to be done.
  • Is money tight? Talk with friends and family about ways to simplify gift exchanges. They may appreciate paring back, too.
  • Schedule preparations and activities, if possible, according to your natural rhythm. Are you a morning person? Host a family brunch. Are you a night owl? Late-night gift-wrapping might work for you.

Seek Support

  • Delegate. Others may welcome a chance to participate. Invite them to share their baking or decorating skills. If you’re having a party, ask guests to bring a dish or help set the table. If they can’t, they’ll say so. It doesn’t mean you were wrong to ask.
  • Find emotional support. You might share your concerns or frustrations with a supportive friend. Together, discuss options for handling potentially sticky situations. For example, family gatherings bring myriad personalities—some more challenging than others—together. With a trusted friend, explore beforehand possible responses to awkward conversations.
  • Nurture yourself. Encouragement doesn’t have to come from outside. Read something uplifting or listen to your favorite music. Replenishing over-extended emotional resources can help combat stress.

You may not be able to control all the circumstances contributing to holiday stress, but you can learn to minimize them and take care of yourself by being realistic, planning ahead, and seeking support. That will contribute genuine warmth and joy into the holidays ahead for you and your family.

Barbara Hosbach, a writer from Jackson, New Jersey, worked full-time while raising her daughter and occasionally felt overwhelmed by holiday preparations.