Feeling Stressed During the Holidays?

Research reveals a simple way to raise your spirits.

Posted Dec 20, 2018

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

If you've been feeling stressed this holiday season, you're not alone.

Beneath the rush of holiday activities we can feel an undercurrent of emotion—stress, anxiety, uncertainty, even sadness. Seasonal music in the stores can recall old feelings, memories of holiday celebrations, and nostalgia for days gone by. Some people become depressed in these dark days of winter.

Yet research has shown that we can light up the darkness with simple acts of gratitude.  Psychologist Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, has found that gratitude can make us happier (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons, 2008, 2016) and recent studies have shown that gratitude can improve our physical health (Hill, Allemand, & Roberts, 2013) and serve as a protective factor against anxiety and depression (Petrocchi, & Couyoumdjian, 2016).  

Here are some simple ways to add gratitude to your life:

  • Pause for a moment in the midst of your busy days to focus on one thing you’re grateful for: think of a dear friend, enjoy the playful antics of your puppy, appreciate the beauty of nature’s artistry in a winter sunset, a blanket of newfallen snow, or raindrops sparkling like tiny crystals on nearby trees.
  • Make it a point to thank people--from your favorite aunt to a helpful neighbor and the clerk at the store—reaching out to connect with a simple expression of gratitude.
  • End each day with a gratitude practice: think of three things you’re thankful for that day. You may choose to keep a gratitude journal to record these three things each day.

From research in quantum physics to studies in psychology, mindfulness, and neuroscience, we are learning how profoundly our energies affect the world around us. (Cameron, 2013; Capra, 2010; Kabat-Zinn, & Davidson, 2011; Siegel, 2018).

During this winter season, your gratitude practice can not only enhance your life but ripple out to touch the hearts of people around you and bring greater light to the world.


Cameron, K. (2013). Practicing positive leadership: Tools and techniques that create extraordinary results. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Capra, F. (2010). The tao of physics. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.

Emmons, R. A. (2008). Thanks: How practicing gratitude can make you happier. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Emmons, R. A. (2016). The little book of gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. New York, NY: Hachette.

Hill, P. L., Allemand, M., & Roberts, B. W. (2013). Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood. Personality and individual differences, 54(1), 92-96.

Kabat-Zinn,J., & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.) (2011). The mind’s own physician. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A. (2016). The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self. Self and Identity, 15(2), 191-205.

Siegel, D. J. (2018). Aware: The science and practice of presence. The groundbreaking meditation practice. New York, NY: Tarcher Perigee.