Managing Holiday Stress: Avoid Becoming a Grinch (Or at Least, Less of One)

December 21, 2023

I saw a meme the other day that said:

Them: What did you get your husband for Christmas?

Me: The ability to not have to worry about anything other than showing up Christmas morning and taking half the credit.

I laughed at first and said, “That’s about right.” But then I realized it was more of a mic drop for women.

Why are we the ones tasked with everything during the holidays? Maybe it is a self-made issue…our experience with how our family cleans the house has made us weary of how efficiently and accurately others can handle the list of mandatory activities that must be checked off, and purchases that must be made between October 1st and New Year’s Day. 

Basically, we need that control so things get done right. Maybe it is an assumption by others that women enjoy all the hustle and bustle that surrounds them during that time of year. It is all glitter and magic, after all. Or maybe it is tradition that the women in a family are the ones to bring everyone and everything together for a few sporadic hours with perfect execution. Regardless of why, it continues to happen every single year. 

When we are younger, we are excited to take on responsibility from our grandmothers, aunts, and mothers and become part of the magic of the season. Some women enjoy getting together with family and friends to share stories and gifts and play games. Others have children and experience the joy of watching those children fill their bellies with the food we have been preparing for days and the excitement as presents are opened. And some just want to pour a glass of wine (or other drink of choice) to sit by the fire with a good book or a laptop and catch up on reading and relaxation or work without interruption. 

As we age, we continue to enjoy the idea of the holidays, but it becomes more difficult to survive them. 

We tend to get short-tempered worrying about the days that are slipping away, money that seems to vanish into thin air, messes that are being made in spaces we continuously try to keep clean. We are exhausted. We eat and drink things we have tried to avoid the rest of the year, in excess, and suddenly our pants are too tight.

The magic is disappearing. We cry in the shower. We panic. We scream into our pillow. And although everything seems to pull together at the last minute and everyone around us gets to enjoy the decorations, food, activities, and presents, we are left to pick up the pieces of our broken bodies and find our lost minds.

Stress takes a toll on the body. 

It negatively affects our mental health, hormonal balance, eating habits, metabolism, immune system, and sleeping patterns, amongst many other functions. A woman’s body seems resilient, but it is fragile.  Even just a small amount of stress can trigger a cascade of changes that impacts how we function on a daily (maybe even hourly) basis.

Stress can impact how our neurotransmitters and hormones affect our mood, causing us to feel more anxiety and depression. When our hormones are imbalanced, we may experience hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, brain fog, low energy, mood swings, and gut disruption. 

We pray our significant other doesn’t buy us anything sexy for the holidays because, well, sex takes too much time and energy and we have WAY too much to do, not even to mention we can’t fit into anything considered “sexy.” 

Lack of sleep decreases our ability to handle stress and leaves us feeling like we won’t even make it through the day. People will tell us we are acting crazy or moody. And yes – we FEEL like we are going crazy and acting moody. That is normal considering the expectations we have of ourselves. 

How can we prevent, or at least decrease, the added stress from bringing out the Grinch and allow us to make it through the holidays less scathed by all the demands?

  1. Say no. If someone asks you to bring cookies to an event and requests that they are homemade (this may be from a recent personal experience), do not fret about bringing store-bought cookies. No one is going to judge you; they most likely will envy you, and in the long run, you can use that extra hour you would have spent baking cookies to take a nap or relax in a warm bath. Sleep and relaxation are much more important for your body and mental health than homemade cookies.
  2. Deep breathing and meditation. There are numerous calming apps you can use to help with concentrated breathing exercises and relaxing the body and mind. If you try one and it is not your cup of tea, move on to the next. 
  3. Consider calming supplements. Ashwagandha, an herb, has the potential to help reduce stress and anxiety, induce calming mechanisms, boost immunity, and may even improve mood, balance blood sugar, and support better sleep. It is considered an “adaptogen,” which means it can help the body to better manage incoming stress. Magnesium, especially in the glycinate or threonate form, helps to calm the body and brain and promotes better sleep. Vitamin B12 is crucial for many functions in our body, including the production and metabolism of certain neurotransmitters and hormones, so optimizing B12 levels during the holidays can help to decrease crankiness, anxiety, depression, and brain fog while supporting a healthy stress response.
  4. Take care of your gut. As hard as we may try, the holidays make it difficult not to indulge in the treats that surround us everywhere we go. Probiotics, digestive enzymes, fiber, collagen, and magnesium (in the citrate form) can help balance the gut microbiome, improve digestion and nutrient absorption, support the lining of the gut, and move things along if the train is sluggish and bloating has ensued.
  5. Optimize your hormonal health. If you are currently taking hormones for perimenopause or menopause, you may start to think they are not working. However, it is most likely the changes in stress that are affecting the way your body is responding to the hormones. Discuss with your doctor how temporary adjustments in your dose, or utilizing stress relieving techniques can positively affect your hormone balance. If you are not on hormone therapy and come to the realization that the holidays are more damaging than they are rewarding, it may be time to discuss with your doctor if bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is right for you.

My co-wing woman, Bonnie, said it best: “It isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being your best, most balanced self, physically and emotionally.”

The best holiday gift you can give…is the gift of you.

Andi Roths