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3 Ways to Manage Holiday Stress and Be Fulfilled

Making your holiday season a stress-free zone.

Key points

  • It is important to control our events and not let our events control us.
  • Understand that stress is not an event. It is a reaction to an event.
  • Sharing time with family and friends creates memories together.
Source: Kali9/istock, used with permission
Multi-generation family having a backyard party
Source: Kali9/istock, used with permission

Stress is one experience that is inescapable. As long as there’s life, stress is always present. Be it the stress of putting food on the table for the family, maintaining your sanity in a chaotic world, making an effort to have your boss in the workplace appreciate your work, or going for a holiday shopping for loved ones, it has a way of positively or negatively influencing your well-being.

Sometimes, you might go out of your way to make an impression on a person who matters to you, even when you don’t have the resources (financial, emotional, social, etc.) to do so. And sometimes, you might ignore the psychological costs associated with such overreach. In terms of financial costs, credit card use in America has reached a new height as never before in 20 years. As we are in holiday spirits, three suggestions could help us manage the level of stress that comes with it.

  • Take a deep breath. Acting on impulse can be detrimental to your health. In an extreme case, it is important to know that there is such a thing as compulsive buying disorder (CBD): an urge to buy things even when you don’t need or can’t afford them. This is extreme behavior and requires professional intervention.

But in less extreme cases, many people feel obligated to buy gifts for their loved ones during the holiday season, even when they don’t have the financial means to do so. If that is you, take a deep breath. Think about the consequences of your actions before making them. For one, maybe you don’t have the funds to make the purchase, which means you could be buying the gifts on credit, which could eventually affect your ability to pay your monthly bills on time.

This could be a recipe for unhealthy stress, which could easily cascade into bigger issues such as avoidable relationship disagreements, financial ruin, family breakups, and other issues that could have been avoided.

Sometimes, people can afford to buy gifts for their loved ones, but in reality, they don’t want to spend that kind of money on gifts. Instead, they do it anyway to save face or against their own will. This kind of decision could be detrimental to your health simply because you acted grudgingly. So, here too, just take a breath and ask yourself, is it really necessary to make the purchase?

In other words, can you do without it, or will it cause irreparable damage if you don’t make this purchase? In the majority of cases, it is our self-talk that drives us to make hasty or ill-formed decisions. So, take a deep breath, think it through for your health’s sake, and spend money responsibly because the excitement of purchasing gifts can be short-lived.

  • Momentary happiness. Most of the time, what gets people into trouble is not the actual event but the thrill that leads to the event. The anticipation and built-up excitement of the experience can cause you to overact, which could lead to overspending. The essence of the holiday season is to spend quality time with family members and friends you may not have seen for a long time or for enough quality time. When you have the opportunity to meet, remember how you make each other feel rather than just thinking about the gifts.

While gifts have sentimental value, what matters most is the conversations shared with others and being present with loved ones gracing the occasion. This momentary happiness shared during the holiday season has a longer-lasting benefit than all the gifts in the world. In fact, the sheer fact that you have the opportunity and privilege to meet your loved ones is in itself the greatest gift of all.

There is a high level of satisfaction gained from sharing moments and experiencing each other’s space and time. As you invest in gift sharing, think more about the significance of the gifts and experiences than how expensive the gifts are. Enjoying the moment is priceless more than you can imagine.

  • Volunteering. Volunteering is one way of serving humanity that humbles us in the process. Visiting those who have nobody to visit them is another way of giving back to people who need such care. It is important to always have a mindset of serving others. During the holiday season, some people use such time to volunteer to visit orphanages, food banks, or nursing home facilities to serve people who are in need of compassion and care. The mindset of shifting the energy from what gifts to buy for loved ones to donating time to those who can never pay it back is very fulfilling.

Sometimes, unknowingly, we can be so self-absorbed that we forget how fortunate we are in life. Finding someone to invest in with your time or resources will go a long way, especially when they least expect it. Even better, invite your loved ones, especially those younger than you, to join you in volunteering. That way, the blessings you experience will be shared with them, and you will set a good example for them to follow.

The holiday season is a time for families and friends to gather to share experiences and gifts. It can also be one of the most stressful periods of the year due to the pressures of trying to do too much for so many people with limited time and resources. Or it can be stressful in the sense of loneliness for those who have nobody to share it with.

Either way, slowing down to take a breath, enjoying the satisfaction that comes with experiencing momentary happiness, and extending a helping hand to others could go a long way to reset your mental health.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Black, D.W. (2007). World Psychiatry: A review of compulsive buying disorder,

Howell, R.T., Chenot, D., Hill, G., & Howell, C. J. (2011). Momentary happiness: The role of psychological need satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 12(1), 1–15.

Measey, M. (2022). Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Total Household Debt Reaches $16.51 trillion in Q3 2022; Mortgage and Auto Loan Originations Decline,

More from J. Ibeh Agbanyim Ph.D.
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