Christmas Stress Relief

See also: Avoiding and Managing Stress for the rest of the year.

Christmas can be a very stressful time of year.  For many the Christmas holiday period is a mass of complex social interactions with family or relatives, some of whom you may rather not see. 

There could well be expectations, or at least perceived expectations, to create a ‘wonderful Christmas’ with presents and perhaps the most important meal of the year. 

Some people rate Christmas as being more stressful than divorce or being burgled.  We don't want to add to the stress and have deliberately avoided putting images of holly, robins, snowmen or anything else Christmassy on this page!

The page does, however, provide some tips and advice to make your Christmas as stress-free as possible. Don't let the festive season get you down: follow the tips and advice you find here, relax and enjoy yourself.

Plan Ahead

Start making a list of things you need to do for Christmas early: for example, shopping, food and presents, decorations, seating plans or travel arrangements. Make the list as detailed as possible, include people’s phone numbers or email addresses to make contacting them simpler.

If it's already too late, bookmark this page ready for next year and set yourself a reminder to do this in mid-November.

Try to prioritise the items on your list: can they be done now, and are they essential?  Do not overestimate how much you can achieve on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Many recipes can, at least in part, be made ahead of time and frozen thus reducing tasks in the immediate run-up to Christmas Day.

Delegate the responsibility for certain tasks to other family members since this will reduce your workload.  Keep your list for next year; it’ll need tweaking and updating but will give you reminders of the sorts of things you need to think about.

See our pages: Time Management and Delegation Skills for more ideas of how to get organised and prioritise your tasks and time.

Shop Online

Although shopping locally has many advantages, High Street shopping just before Christmas can be particularly stressful, often cold and wet (in the UK anyway) and with hundreds of other stressed people trying to find the ‘perfect’ gift.

Shop online from the comfort of your own home as you’ll not only save time and be less stressed but will probably save money too.  Always make sure you buy from reputable online retailers and check that they can deliver before the big day.

If you haven’t already tried it, you may be able to do your food shopping online too and have it delivered directly to your door. Remember to book your delivery slot early though as the prime delivery slots may well be booked early.

Christmas Cards

Start writing your Christmas cards early too!

Many people receive and send lots of cards at Christmas time so start in mid-November, if you can, and write a few cards and envelopes each day keeping them to one side before posting or delivering.

Know When to Stop

Decide when you will stop your Christmas preparations and start to relax and enjoy the holiday. Work towards and try to stick to this goal, even if it is in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Remember that Christmas is your holiday too.

Christmas Day and Beyond

Keep Calm

Play some relaxing music, perhaps seasonal carols, and burn some scented candles, incense or aromatherapy oil. Take a relaxing hot bath to unwind.

Our pages: Relaxation Techniques including Aromatherapy for some advice about how to relax.

Seating Arrangements

If there is someone coming to dinner that you dislike, avoid sitting opposite them and instead seat them to one side and opposite somebody who they get on with better.  Invite a few more reasonable people along as it will help dilute any stress caused by relatives.  It’s a case of the more the merrier!


If you are planning on cooking a bird then turkey or pheasant are good choices. They both contain tryptophan which our bodies use to make serotonin, a powerful brain-calming chemical.

Have Decaffeinated Coffee

When your body is under stress it produces cortisol which prepares you for ‘fight or flight’ situations. Caffeine does too; see our article: Stress, Nutrition and Diet for more information.  

Offer everybody decaffeinated coffee and tea, or herbal tea alternatives, since this will help keep the stress levels down and has the added bonus that people may fall asleep after dinner!

Practise Breathing

When we’re stressed our heart beat increases and our breathing shallows, it’s all part of the fight or flight reaction.  Work on reversing this process and take time to breathe deeply. 

Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold for 15 or 20 seconds and then breathe slowly out through your mouth, repeat for a few minutes to instantly help reduce stressful feelings.

See our pages on Relaxation Techniques and Stress Management for more.

Have a 'Great Escape' Plan!

It's a good idea to have some pre-planned excuses to escape from proceedings if they get too stressful.

Be imaginative and use things such as leaving the room to make a phone-call to a friend or perhaps checking on a neighbour. Just by having planned a couple of escape routes you’ll probably feel less stressed anyway but actually leaving the situation, even for 10 minutes, will help clear your mind and relax you.

Sleep Well

Lack of sleep can make you feel irritable and more prone to feeling stressed.

Christmas often means late nights and early mornings, especially if children are involved, so your normal sleep routine may be reduced. In the northern hemisphere the days are short and with less natural light we produce more melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our body clock and sleep-wake cycle. Unless we can sleep, more melatonin means we are more likely to feel tired, grumpy stressed

Eating lots of rich foods and drinking alcohol can also disturb your sleep, not to mention Santa coming down the chimney in the middle of the night!

Our page How to Sleep has lots of further information to help you improve your sleep hygiene and get a better night's sleep.

Make Time for Exercise

Christmas is, for many, a time of excessive eating and drinking and exercise can be easily overlooked.  Diets and gym memberships are particularly popular in January!  Exercise is a great way to reduce stress as it burns off hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and helps produce mood-enhancing endorphins.  Try going for a walk after dinner as the fresh air and exercise will lift your mood and make you feel better.

See our page: The Importance of Exercise for more information.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol

Most de-stressing articles will tell you to avoid alcohol altogether but, let’s be realistic, it is Christmas!  However, do avoid excessive alcohol as it dehydrates your body and makes your liver work overtime to process it, alcohol can also hinder quality sleep.

Drink as much water or juice as alcohol as this will help you to stay hydrated, feel better and therefore cope better with stressful situations. You'll also feel better on Boxing Day.

Have Fun!

Remember it’s your Christmas too so try to relax and have fun, laugh and be merry.  If you do find others around you difficult then try to rise above the situation.  If things don’t go to plan try not to worry too much, instead laugh about them and make them into fun memories that you can talk about during Christmases to come. "Remember that time Mum set fire to the sprouts!".

Have a great, stress-free, Christmas break!