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5 Ways to Reduce Your Holiday Stress by Planning Ahead

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2014 December Calendar PlanningThe Holiday season has become incredibly hectic—what used to be a few days of tradition is now two months of frenzy. However, actively thinking and planning ahead how you want to approach the season and all its parties, traditions and family obligations can help manage all that chaos. Today’s tips for how planning ahead can help families, couples and individuals handle the holiday stress come from Lesley Seeger, LCSW, staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

  1. Use your calendar. It’s important to determine how much time you have before you can determine how much time you want to spend shopping for gifts, baking cookies, or socializing. Don’t wait until right before the big holidays to determine how you’ll split up your time—do so in advance. Schedule when you’ll run important errands, decide which parties or events you’ll attend, and don’t forget to build in downtime so it’s not all about the Holidays.
  1. Manage expectations. As we head into the chaos, it’s important to keep expectations in check—both yours and the important people in your life. With the advent of social media, we receive invitation after invitation to events and gatherings around this time of year. Remember that it isn’t possible to do everything and please everyone—make sure that you’re comfortable managing expectations and saying “no” when you need to. Additionally, when you plan out your holiday schedule, be sure to let others know what your plans are in an effort to avoid surprises or disappointments.
  1. Check in about traditions in advance. As you make your holiday plans in advance, try checking in with your family and loved ones, as well as with yourself, about traditions you’ve held onto for years. Communicate before the Holidays about things like how much to spend on gifts or who will host and make holiday dinners, and ask yourselves and each other about what’s fair and what’s desired. Additionally, remember that new additions to your family may mean new or different traditions should and will begin. Communicating early and often about these issues can help alleviate some of the stress they may bring.
  1. Schedule self-care. During busy times, it can be very easy to neglect ourselves. However, it is during these times that it’s most important to take good care of ourselves. Given the onset of cold temperatures and the frenzy of the season, building in time for rest, exercise, and balanced eating will allow you to stay healthy and energetic so that you can, in fact, enjoy the pleasurable activities you’ve planned.
  1. Don’t rule out flexibility. While planning ahead can reduce stress and help make the Holiday season go smoother, it’s impossible to plan for everything. Remember that breaks from your regular schedule can be a good thing—they offer variety and mark the time of year as different and special.


Lesley Seeger, LCSW is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She sees clients at our downtown Chicago location and is a member of the Mindfulness and Behavioral Therapies Program. To learn more about Lesley or make an appointment, please visit our website.


The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about what we do on our website.

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