holiday stress

The holidays can be a hectic time, especially during a pandemic. From a lack of money to a lack of time, many people feel stress, rather than joy, this time of year.

According to a study on holiday stress conducted by the American Psychological Association, the average person is more likely to feel their stress during the holidays as the demands of people, culture and commercialism increase. But there are some simple ways to focus your emotions and efforts and have a more uplifting spirit this season,  says Agatha Parks-Savage, EdD, RN, Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education and Professor of EVMS Family and Community Medicine.

Have realistic expectations.

Let’s be honest — there is the TV version of the holidays and then there is reality. Remember that no matter how hard you try, not everything can be perfect.

“Most people have unrealistic expectations and we have those and we don’t meet them we get sad,” Dr. Parks-Savage says. “The best meal ever, the best time with family ever, the best present ever — we are setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment if everything isn’t perfect.”

Instead, she says, give yourself and others some grace. If you accept that there may be disagreements, that things may not turn out exactly as you wanted them to, you may breathe a little easier in the end.

Be proactive.

Make a list and check it twice. Seriously.

A great deal of stress around the holidays centers around people feeling the need to get a lot of things done in a short time period.  Set goals, prioritize, and when it becomes clear not everything can be done, triage your list. Ask yourself, does it have to be done right now? 

“If you can identify what’s urgent, what’s not, then you can see what you can wait to do until after the first of the year,” Dr. Parks-Savage says.

Be mindful.

While the holidays may be the happiest time of the year for you, not everyone sees it that way. The holiday seasons comes with a lot of buildup. Commercials and movies tell us we are supposed to be happy, but unfortunately it isn’t always a happy time for some people.

Whether they are missing a loved one, are stressing over work, over money or over the hustle and bustle of the busiest season, they need you to be mindful of their feelings. 

“We do things in excess this time of year and we should pay attention to how this effects those around us,” Dr. Parks-Savage says. “There is no joy in taking the joy out of others.”


We know, we know, easier said than done. But in reality, you don’t have to do it all yourself. And though it may be hard to accept, your way isn’t necessarily the right way or the only way.

“It doesn’t make you a happy person to feel like you are doing everything by yourself so why not ask for help?” Dr. Parks-Savage says.

When it comes to shopping and wrapping presents, let everyone get in on the fun.Who knows, you may even create a new family ritual that adds to the fun and joy of the season.

“If you keep the greater good in mind as you navigate the holiday’s you will find yourself suffering from a great deal less stress,” she says. “Flexibility is an important mindset.”

Dr. Parks-Savage is a licensed professional counselor who has been working with busy professionals and couples on how to balance work and personal responsibilities for nearly 20 years.