The holiday season can be a time of joy, family traditions, and togetherness. When you combine your family’s expectations with your own desire to create a special and authentic experience for your loved ones, you also have a recipe for stress.  It’s no secret that the holidays can make you feel like Atlas from the Greek myth, holding the world on your shoulders.  If your family includes someone with a serious health challenge, the weight can be doubled. The pressure you feel everyday is more than enough already…when you add the holidays it can seem like January 2nd will never come.

What do you do to manage stress? Have a hot cup of tea while binge-watching your favorite series on Netflix? Take a yoga class? Go for a long walk? In addition to these standbys, consider adding some of the following strategies to your stress-management toolkit this holiday season:

1. Make It New

In the first Harry Potter book, the Dursleys try to give Dudley 36 presents for his birthday. “But last year I got 37!” he cries. The lesson here is that if you try to compete with what you’ve done in the past, you will always end up having to go bigger. You’ll need a taller tree, more presents, a more expensive vacation. Instead, consider trying something new this holiday season. That way, your effort can stand on its own, instead of competing with the past.

2. Spread The Days

Placing all your eggs in the basket of the 25th, or whatever day your tradition celebrates, is just too much pressure. What if everything isn’t perfect?  What if your ill family member can’t wake up early to unwrap presents under the tree? Instead of making it all about the 25th, consider spreading the holiday across the preceding week or weeks. That way, if one day doesn’t go according to plan, you’ve got many more to make up for it.

3. Transform Your Traditions

Your traditions are important; they’re a way to reconnect with what it means to be part of your family. But traditions can also set unrealistic expectations. Maybe it’s difficult for your family to attend this year’s performance of the Nutcracker. Instead of forcing yourself and your family to stick to the letter of the law with your traditions, ask how you can represent the spirit of the tradition in a way that works for your family. For example, instead of going to the Nutcracker, maybe you can rent a video projector and stream a live broadcast of the ballet onto a large wall in your home? Look to the heart of your traditions. What do they mean to you and how can you keep this meaning even if you choose to adjust the mechanics?

4. Experiences, Not Things

You might have heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: Rather than spending zillions of dollars on stuff that will break before you’ve digested the big holiday meal, consider spending your money and effort on experiences. Research shows that doing things rather than having things creates the most happiness and the most memories. Can you take a Santa train? Or go together to pick your tree? Or spend a few hours scrapbooking together? Or buy a board game that you can play together instead of a video game that your child will play alone?  Making the holiday about doing things together rather than having things apart can boost the meaning and decrease the stress of the season.

Garth Sundem
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, GeekDad and author of books including "Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change". Find him at
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