It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.

Mother Theresa


Some people look forward to the holidays with great expectations for family, friends and time to enjoy the season. The holidays offer great food, much needed time away from work and the opportunity to reconnect with loved-ones.

While the holidays can be a joyous time, for many, they are stressful and cause great anxiety. Whether finances, family dynamics or other worries are at play, not everyone is excited about the added stresses that the holidays can bring.


One of the most common reasons that the holidays become stressful is the expectation placed on families who are sometimes overextended emotionally and financially. The added burden to provide big meals, “perfect” gifts, and travel expenses feels like a heavy weight.

Families begin to feel the stress just about the time they are putting away the Halloween decorations.

Despite the Hallmark channel’s insistence that families all love one another and that being together is all that matters, many families are fractured, busy and unable or unwilling to live in harmony.

The key to having a stress-less holiday is all about preparation and setting boundaries. Holding to a plan that allows for the fun parts of the season without setting the family up for failure is the best way to ensure that everyone has the best time possible, even if times aren’t perfect.


When children are small, parents set boundaries that are clear expectations for their conduct.  If they step outside of the boundaries, they are redirected back to what is acceptable.

Parents use logic and love to explain why the rules exist and why consequences to their actions are important in the grand scheme of life.

The benefit of operating within set boundaries becomes knowing what is expected and understanding that there are limits. Children raised with clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries tend to be better at self-regulating, delayed gratification and adapting to their settings as adults.

Setting boundaries outside of parenting has the same benefits.

Setting boundaries about the holidays allows for the same outcomes as parenting. Preparing a budget and holding to it, decided whom to share the holidays with and negotiating what activities to participate in will create a sense of calm in a potentially anxious season.

The key to making meaningful boundaries is to do it ahead of time.

Prior to the season, discuss the expectations, finances and opportunities available and make clear decisions about how resources will be used.

Once those decisions are made, stick to the plan.


The single best thing that can be done to prepare for holiday stress is to acknowledge that it is part of the reason for the season. It is directly tied to the expectations placed on a family that are over and above every day living.

Just because the holidays are here though, does not mean there is an obligation to overextend ourselves.

If you have outstanding chores, bills, family relationships that are strained or projects that are unfinished, do everything you can to get them managed before the holidays set in.

Clean your home or have a service come in and get things on track. Head to the dump, donate to the thrift store and clear out your clutter. Clean your garage, your gutters and your closets, or set a date for when these things will get done.

Refill prescriptions, pre-write your holiday newsletter, clear out space for the holiday decorations to come down from the attic and make space for what you need.

Start picking up baking items or other staples that you know you are going to need now when you have a bit more time.

Touch base with friends and family now.  Share that you expect times to get so busy that you want to reach out now so you won’t feel pressured later and they won’t feel neglected.


Make certain that self-care is a part of the whole family’s lifestyle. Adequate sleep, exercise and down time are important in a season that is all about hustle.

Don’t feel obligated to say yes to every invitation to give, attend a party or otherwise be involved. It is perfectly acceptable to say no to the things that cause more stress than joy.


Stay in the moment. Remember the reason for your season. Whatever your personal reasons are for celebrating the holidays, remember to be present and enjoy everything you can.  Keep in mind that this year will never come again.

Give. The surest way to reduce stress is to freely and willingly give of yourself, your time or your resources for the benefit of others. This is different than giving out of obligation which leads to resentment.

No matter your finances, your family dynamics or your time constraints, you can give in a meaningful way towards something that is bigger than you and will set your soul at ease.

For more information on how to handle holiday stress, check out the Holiday Stress Resource Center

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