Navigating stress during the holiday season

The holiday season is often portrayed as a joyous time. Unfortunately, for many people, this time of year can create more stress than joy.

Expectations about what can and should happen for having memorable holidays can be hard to live up to.

It helps to acknowledge that most people feel some sort of stress this time of year. If you are stressing out about the holidays, know that this is normal. If a friend or colleague snaps under pressure during this time, try to understand the reasons they may be feeling this way. These reasons could include:

  • Loneliness, isolation and otherness – The holidays are portrayed as being about friends and family, but for many people, they can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation.
    • People without close family, friends or a significant other can feel more lonely over the holidays.
    • People may be grieving a lost loved one.
  • Food and drink-focused anxiety – Large meals, cocktail hours, cakes, cookies and other high-calorie items about during the holidays, but they don’t represent comfort food to everyone.
    • Food-centric holidays and gatherings can be triggers or sources of anxiety for people dealing with eating disorders.
    • People managing alcohol use disorder can feel stress or anxiety at events where there is alcohol.

While the holidays can be stressful, here are a few tips to help you cope during this time of year.

Prioritize self-care. Engage in activities that tend to your basic needs. Examples of how to practice self-care might include:

  • Get regular sleep and rest
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Exercise
  • Connect with your community
  • Practice mindfulness and self-compassion

Set healthy expectations. If you notice that you’re preoccupied about having the “perfect” holiday season or you’re stressed about buying all the gifts on your list, pause and think about the big picture. The holiday season is a time for celebration and connection, not extravagance and perfection. Remember that every person’s holiday is unique, depending on their circumstances. Try not to compare your reality to ideals and fantasies, which are unrealistic and more likely to be the exception than the rule. Instead, celebrate in ways that bring you closer to what matters.

Seek support. Holiday stress is usually short-lived, but it can amplify existing mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression. Consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Lyra’s expert mental health providers are available to help you feel better.

Join or learn more

Vanderbilt employees and their families are eligible to receive 12 counseling sessions per household member each year, at no cost to employees.

Sign up today at or call 877-804-2856.

Virgin Pulse, your wellness benefit, can support you with prioritizing self-care. Virgin Pulse is available to all benefits-eligible employees regardless of their enrollment in Vanderbilt benefits.

Sign up today at or call 888-671-9395.

Answers to frequently asked questions are on the Office of Health and Wellness website.