24 Ways To Approach the Holidays With Less Stress

A recent study shows that 88% of Americans feel more pressure during the holidays than at any other time of year. The holidays are right around the corner, and for many, that may bring on feelings of stress and anxiety.

We all want to approach the holiday season with the right mindset, appreciating holiday movies on repeat, hot chocolate, and gatherings with friends and family. Still, sometimes, it's just even more items for your long to-do list.

That’s why we gathered 24 planning tips for December to help reduce the stress of this busy time of year.

1. Remember What’s Most Important

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It may feel overwhelming to think of everything we need to do for the holidays, but with the right mindset, we can get through the holidays happier and enjoy the moments of laughter and warmth this holiday season. Before the craziness of the season sets in, take some time to write a list of what's important to you during this season. Write it down, even if small, including everything from family to community events to fun activities with your children.

Once you complete that list, write another detailing what you need to do in your daily life- things like work, shopping, doctor's appointments, etc. Having a thorough list of your priorities will help you stay organized, and as you work through the season, you can simply cross off what you complete. 

2. Turn To-dos Into Family Activities

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Spend some time getting crafty with your kids and make gift tags, decorate gift bags, or even color plain wrapping paper.  Family members will enjoy getting gifts decorated by the little ones in their lives. For example, get plain, single-color wrapping paper and have your kids go to town to decorate it. Your recipients will love the added touch, and you'll get a breather on top of happy, entertained kids. 

3. DIY Anywhere You Can

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Besides wrapping paper and tags, you can also make some of your holiday gifts. You can save money by making some homemade gifts for family and friends. Grandparents always enjoy homemade gifts from their grandchildren and can use them for holiday decorations for years.

4. Give Similar Gifts for Friends and Extended Family

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Organizing yourself and planning gifts ahead of time can help you reduce the number of trips you take to the stores and save you money. Decide on one gift that everyone on your list will widely enjoy. Everyone gets the same thing: a gift card or a book. You can add small touches or personalization, but getting everyone the same gift will save you time and money and limit stress. 

5. Prepare Part of the Holiday Meal Ahead of Time.

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Cooking a meal for the family is a lot of work, and you don’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen and miss out on family time. Personally, the day before Thanksgiving, I do all of my prep work: I slice up my potatoes and stash them in the fridge, I make my stuffing and stop short of putting it in the oven, letting it rest overnight instead, and make my cranberry sauce, so it has time to set overnight.

In the morning, all I have to do is season the turkey and pop it in the oven, then put my other dishes in the oven to finish cooking accordingly. It saves me a ton of time and limits the stress of preparing a giant meal for many people. This routine is a lifesaver if you're like me and can't stand having people in your kitchen while you cook. 

6. Map Out Your Events Ahead of Time

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The holidays bring so many opportunities to attend special events. From markets, friends, and family, your calendar can be overloaded. Try to have everything you want done laid out and organized before heading into the busy season. It'll save you from last-minute chaos and let you spend more time with your family. 

7. Don't Forget About Stocking Stuffers

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When you're out shopping, don't forget about stocking stuffers. It's one less trip to the store, and you have stocking stuffers crossed off your to-do list. Big box stores like Costco have multi-packs or large candy bags that can be split across a group of stockings.

8. Secret Santa for the Adults

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Secret Santa is a great way to plan and keep spending low. It’s also fun to have the excitement of seeing who everyone's Secret Santa is and bring lots of laughter to gatherings. 

9. Use Baking Hacks

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Christmas and baking go hand in hand. Receiving a box of baked goods is a great way to spread the love this holiday season, but there's no need to bake from scratch. Keep an eye out for ready-made cookie mixes with packets of sprinkles and frosting. 

10. Keep the Kids Occupied

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If you’ve got little ones to keep entertained, using some Christmas printables and Holiday crafts is a great way to keep them happy while you're at family events, waiting for Santa, or need to get things done around the house.

11. Use a Checklist

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The days leading up to a holiday can be stressful. So many try to remember everything they need, and if you’re hosting, you have a never-ending list of chores you want to be done and items you need to buy before the big day. Knock out your little chores a few days before, and try to finish everything up the day before you host. 

12. Start a Christmas Savings Plan

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Saving extra cash ahead of time is a great idea and an excellent way to feel less overwhelmed about money. A holiday savings plan is a good thing to remember this season and for seasons to come. Even if you put aside every $5 from now until the end of the month, it will help a larger-than-normal credit card bill. As someone with a family who exclusively has birthdays in December and January (thanks, Mom and Dad), a budget is essential. 

13. Talk to Your Family Ahead of Time

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Communication is key. Conversations about gifts, events, and more before the holidays are a great way to have reasonable expectations for yourself and your family members. If you're buying gifts for extended family members, don't be afraid to discuss the budget you'll be working with. It'll keep everyone's expectations under control, and you'll avoid awkward moments when you blow the budget on a $100 gift card for someone when they get you a box of chocolate. 

14. Color Coordinate Your Gifts

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Organize your gifts by color or a tag so you’re ready to grab the gifts you need as you leave for an event. Give each immediate family member a specific wrapping paper, then have all your coworkers' gifts in green, your friends' in white, and so on. Plus, all your gifts match! We love an aesthetic gift display. 

15. Buy Some Pre Packaged Baking Kits

Baketivity Baking Kit
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If you want quality baking time with your family but are so short on time, order a  baking kit like the ones from Baketivity. They are ready to go with instructions and everything you need to make your baked goods. You can choose from cookies, cake pop, cakes, and could buy them as gifts and send them to busy families around the country.

16. Negotiate ‘Gift Truces’

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Gift Truces are a great way to open up a conversation about gift-giving. This allows you to talk with your friends about not buying gifts but maybe doing things together instead of for the holidays or year to come.

Whether it's a conversation with your spouse, parents, or siblings, talking about putting the money towards a dream vacation instead of holiday gifts might also be what they dream of.

17. Batch Produce Common DIY Gifts

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Batch produce DIY gifts for your loved ones all in one day. For example, you can make DIY candles and slightly customize them (change color, glitter, beads, ribbon you use) in one weekend afternoon. That way, you'll have a little gift for every special person in your life without spending hours shopping or making gifts every December weekend.

18. Use Gift Bags for Wrapping

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Make your life as easy as you can during the holiday rush. Gift bags can be found at most dollar stores to save you some money and time.

19. Don’t Feel Bad Saying No

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Sometimes, it’s hard to say no, but we must remember our mental health and priorities during a busy season. Saying no will limit your stress and help you break down your people-pleasing tendencies. You don't have to do it all! 

20. Buy Gifts in Advance

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I have done this since I had money to buy my gifts for friends and family: buy as many gifts as you can weeks before events. Not only will this give you time for canceled orders or shipping delays, but you can correct any mistakes or fix any gift imbalances without stress. If you see something you know your dad will love in the middle of August, buy it, stash it in your home (well hidden, of course), and boom, come Christmas, you've already got a gift out of the way. 

21. Travel for the Holidays Instead

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How about Christmas away this year? Dust off your passport and head off to a new holiday experience or warmer weather. If you're traveling, you can experience the fun of a trip with the added twist of holiday cheer. Being on vacation will also limit the stress of cleaning the house, preparing a giant meal, or visiting extended family. 

22. Keep It Simple. You Don’t Need To Do It All

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There are often so many things you want to get done, but maybe you can trim some things off that to-do list this year. Then, you might find they weren't missed, and you'll give it up permanently. If it's not bringing you joy, don't do it! Skip the Christmas letter and cards if you can't stand sending mail to everyone you've ever met throughout your life. Don't put the lights up outside your house if the thought brings you more stress than seasonal cheer. Everyone celebrates differently, and your mental well-being during the holiday season is more important than creating a picture-perfect storybook life. 

23. Consider Experiences as Gifts

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Gift an experience, avoid the shopping lines, and hunt for the latest hot gifting item this year. Or perhaps a season pass to a nearby amusement park or science center that your family can enjoy all year. When I was younger, one of my gifts was a day tubing on local ski hills with my dad. That was around fifteen years ago, and I still remember it clearly. Do I remember anything else I got that year? Nope. 

24. Include Everyone in the Holiday Prep

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Divide that to-do list where you can. Get everyone involved in the planning and execution this year. There's no need to be a superhero. Getting your kids involved will teach them necessary life skills and the work that goes into making the holidays fun. You'll make some beautiful memories along the way. 

Victoria Cornell

Author: Victoria Cornell


Victoria Cornell is the founder of Motherhood Life Balance. She helps busy moms find peace in the midst of the chaos, transform their mindset, get organized, and find the fuel to live their best life.