Managing Holiday Stress: Wellness Strategies for a Healthy & Happy Season

The holidays can be a stressful time, one full of added pressures for seniors. They can be particularly hard for people dealing with a loss or who feel like they aren’t living up to expectations. However, proactively exploring healthy coping skills can help you to prevent the “holiday blues” from becoming part of your holiday season.

The skill of coping with holiday stress well doesn’t happen overnight, even though that would be nice. Instead, it involves carefully developing emotional skills and strategies over time, which can help you become more resilient when a holiday crisis strikes. 

Managing holiday stress as a senior is possible, especially when it’s approached with proactive and preventative health measures in mind. Continue reading for simple holiday stress management tips for seniors, including ideas for winding down when feeling overwhelmed. 

Understanding Holiday Stress 

Many look forward to the holidays with mixed delight and dread. This can be especially true for elderly adults who, after experiencing many seasonal events, know that things don’t always go as planned. In fact, a recent poll suggested that older adults may be the most at-risk for experiencing holiday stress. 

Stress during the holidays can skyrocket, thanks to a never-ending list of to-dos and other stressors. Factors like financial constraints, loneliness, and grief can complicate holiday season experiences and make the holidays tricky. 

It can feel overwhelming to navigate the holidays as a senior, especially when you’re in a new or changing season of life. Take heart in knowing that you aren’t alone— these feelings can be shared among older adults seeking out holiday cheer over chaos. A few simple shifts in how you approach the season can make all the difference. 

Preventative and Proactive Tips 

With the speed of life accelerating during this season, there’s no better time to focus on self-care and setting expectations than as the holidays approach. Being proactive about managing stress can make it easier to mitigate emotions in the moment and can prevent a problem from going from bad to worse. 

Set Expectations 

Setting expectations with friends and family members ahead of time can significantly reduce stress. Sharing your expectations and hearing others express theirs can help everyone discover a “happy medium” where compromise can be found. 

Other examples of expectations or guidelines to discuss include: 

  • What events you’re expected to attend (such as holiday parties or pictures) 
  • Accommodations at events (for example, is it wheelchair accessible?) 
  • How you’re choosing to honor tradition this year (such as homemade vs. store-bought)
  • The types and amounts of food available, and what you’re expected to bring
  • Gifts (discussed more deeply in the following section) 

Some seniors let this saying guide their planning efforts—“When in doubt, simplify!” It’s okay to limit time with family to what you can realistically handle, especially if you’re dealing with mental or physical limitations. 

It’s also okay to ask for someone else to host get-togethers, even if you’ve been expected to in the past. In short, don’t feel pressured to put your mental and physical health at risk to meet the expectations of others. 

Revisit Your Budget 

Has your gifting budget been tight in years past? Have added health concerns or family circumstances caused a shift in your financial priorities this year? 

It may be worth revisiting your budget before you buy gifts to understand your limits and resources better. For example, if you’re in a busy season, you can get everyone gift cards to save time. If finances are tight, you can opt for heartfelt homemade gifts or give thrifted items a second life.

Some other financial areas to examine during the holiday season include: 

  • Travel expenses,  
  • Overall financial goals (like retirement) and how holiday spending fits in
  • Dollar limits for gifts

One helpful approach to gift-giving around the holiday season is to consider and communicate who gets a gift ahead of time so no one’s feelings are hurt. For example, many larger families set up a rotating gift assignment, so each individual or family only has to provide one gift for another individual or family. 

Some families suggest the magic of gift-giving be focused on the kids, grandkids, or immediate family rather than the entire extended family, neighbors, or friends. 

The bottom line is… It’s up to you! Defining financial guidelines around gift-giving can help you know what to expect as the season approaches, which can significantly decrease stress. 

Also, it can be helpful to remember that gifts are more wants than needs (in most cases), and you can decide if they make the holiday more magical or stressful. You can ask for or give experiences if that feels more authentic. 

Focus on Mental Health

Stress can take a toll on mental health, too— before, during, and after the holiday. To fortify your mental defenses, check in with yourself before the company arrives or schedules get crazy. 

If you’re starting to feel stressed as the holiday approaches, try and track your “triggers,” or what behaviors or environments contribute to a downward spiral. Look out for symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (sometimes called “holiday depression”), which can be triggered by a change in season. 

Coping with Holiday Stress

Wondering about specific ways to manage stress during the holidays? The following tips can assist you in creating a stress-free holiday season

Adopt Healthy Coping Skills

Instead of drinking excessive alcohol to calm your nerves or going shopping for a dopamine surge, it can be worth it, in the long run, to work towards healthier ways of expressing your emotions. 

Channeling your energy towards staying less stressed can make a big difference for both your mental and physical health. Here are some ideas of positive ways to cope: 

  • Journaling 
  • Practicing deep breathing  
  • Talking with a spouse or friend, you can trust 
  • Trying mindfulness and meditation
  • Volunteering or connecting with your community (may lessen feelings of loneliness and give much-needed perspective) 

Practice Self-Care 

The holidays can be when you give a lot of yourself to others. Even if you’re not in charge of big get-togethers, setting aside time to recharge is beneficial. 

Plan events around your regular routine, such as when you usually sleep or nap. In other words, prioritize the activities that keep you healthy, like eating a balanced breakfast or going on your daily walk.

In addition to your regular activities, it’s wise to set aside some extra “me time” for yourself. This dedicated time for self-care can ensure that you feel your best throughout the holiday season, even when potential stressors arise.

Don’t know where to start with self-care? Try these ideas: 

  • Attend a scheduled therapy session 
  • Go for a walk 
  • Read a book
  • Step back from social media or the news 
  • Take a bath or have an at-home spa day 

Remember that self-care doesn’t always mean you have to spend time alone. If you’re feeling particularly isolated this year, self-care may look like scheduling a lunch date with a loved one or seeing a movie you’ve wanted to see. 

Reach Out for Support 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends for tasks you aren’t confident or comfortable carrying out independently. The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no, in which case you can reach out to someone else you can help! 

Whether living independently, in a senior community, or in a care facility, a good practice to adopt is accepting assistance when others offer it. Acknowledging that you may need more help as you age can be challenging, but it can also open the door to deeper connections in your life and be a way for others can show they love and care for you. What better sentiment than that to celebrate around the holidays? 

Additionally, finding a support group can offer added, well, support! Seeking out a support group you resonate with as a caregiver, recipient of care, or a loved one of a senior can provide access to more personalized tips based on your unique needs. 

For example, a Facebook group focused on catering to elderly individuals with hearing loss may be able to provide tips for healthily navigating social situations during the holidays, mainly when it can be frustrating to feel left out of conversations at times due to hearing difficulties.  

At the very least, support groups often mean finding people to commiserate with, which can make all the difference if you’ve been feeling alone or isolated in your struggles. 

Wrapping Up Holiday Stress Management

Potential stressors seem to increase around the holidays, and that’s especially true for many seniors. Fortunately, being proactive about mental health and stress mitigation can make the holidays a more manageable time of year. 

It’s also comforting to know that even if you can’t control or prevent a stressful situation ahead of time, there are tactics like deep breathing that you can take at the moment to promote a healthier stress response. 


AARP Washington DC. Ways to Cope With Stress During the Holiday Season. Accessed November 2023. 

American Psychiatric Association. Seven Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress. Published December 2022. 

O’Dair B. How to Beat Holiday Stress. Published November 2019. 

Poklemba V. Holiday Depression: Strategies for Overcoming Seasonal Stress. Accessed November 2023. 

World Health Organization. Stress. Published February 2023.