Tips to reduce stress and have more fun with your kids this holiday season

November 9, 2021

by Lindsey Flannery

It sounds deceptively simple, but the most reliable way to reduce your stress this holiday season is to do less. It doesn’t matter how organized you are: if you have too much on your list, you’re setting yourself up for burnout.

According to an article published by the Johns Hopkins Health Review, much of our stress comes from our over-the-top expectations driving what we think we can, and should, do. In our modern “cult of busy,” as the Johns Hopkins researchers call it, stress causes symptoms such as impatience and irritability, trouble getting adequate sleep, and mental and physical fatigue.(1)

You can make the holidays magical for your children (and much more enjoyable for yourself) by making your annual holiday to-do list shorter this year. The key? Ensure the items that make the list are the traditions you and your family value the most.

Cook less

Is it the holiday cooking and baking that causes you stress, because of the planning, list creating, grocery shopping, time spent preparing, and the pressure to make it turn out perfectly? Then try reducing the number of things you cook! 

Make a list of what you would usually prepare, and circle the ones that are most important to you and your family. Focus on memory-making. For example, decorating holiday cookies might be a special holiday tradition that your kids love, but it may not be feasible to make a four-course dinner from scratch on the same day. 

For the items that don’t make the cut, pick up something pre-made, ask someone else to contribute, or do without -- without guilt! Or, schedule a grocery or restaurant delivery. The extra time will allow you to actually enjoy those moments with your kids. After all, it’s the time with you, your attention and warmth, that makes their memories positive ones. 

Shop less

You’ve heard this one before, but are you heeding the advice yet? Not only does battling holiday crowds at big box stores or endlessly perusing Amazon late at night cause you stress, it also means you’re missing an opportunity to make gift giving more meaningful.

Try attending a local holiday festival or craft fair featuring booths from local makers. At these events you can often visit Santa, have some hot cocoa, support local makers, AND check items off your list. This transforms a holiday chore into a fun time with your family. If you’d prefer to shop online, you can find local makers and unique artisan goods on Etsy. Let your children help you find a meaningful, handmade gift for someone they love!

If, and only if, it doesn’t add to your stress: try making homemade gifts with your kids instead of purchasing them. You can decorate plain mugs, picture frames or ornaments together; or gift homemade canned goods that you make several months ahead of time.

If you feel like the number of gifts you have to buy is out of hand, try having a gentle conversation with your family about reducing the number of gifts expected. Some ways to do this: 

  • Switch from buying gifts for everyone to drawing one person’s name, so each person is only buying one. 
  • Buy gifts for children only and swap in a fun family game in place of the adult gift trade.
  • Give cash: make homemade cards with your kids and tuck cash inside.
  • Allow anyone who isn’t interested to opt out of gift giving and receiving. For some people, it’s more burdensome than enjoyable!
Go Out Less

Many of us are afraid of letting down our extended family or friends if we say no to a holiday gathering invitation, but at what cost? According to Dr. Dana Nelson, PhD, “Whether it’s in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead to resentment, anger, and burnout.”(2) 

So the choice becomes, do you say yes to everything and not enjoy it because you’re resentful, tired and stressed? Or do you set clear boundaries around how much you’re willing to do, and actually enjoy the gatherings you attend?

While you may be tempted to over-explain when turning down an invite, practice a simple, “I’m sorry, we can’t make it this year.” When you are confident and firm in your boundaries, your loved ones are more likely to respect them. 

Be respectful with your family members regarding COVID precautions

COVID: It’s the elephant in the room as we approach the second holiday season of the pandemic. While it’s important to monitor CDC recommendations for gatherings in your area, it’s even more essential to open a dialogue with those you’re gathering with. If anyone is at higher risk due to their age or other factors, ask about their preferred risk mitigation measures. 

Most importantly, respect everyone’s comfort level regarding gathering. Listening carefully to each other without judgement and responding with love and respect are key to less stressful interactions all year - not only at the holidays.


By following these tips, you will surely be able to reduce the size of your to-do list and your stress level, giving you more time to enjoy what’s most important: time spent relaxing and being truly present with your family. You may think the gifts are most important to your kids, but it’s quality time with the people they love most that creates lasting memories.



(1)   Combating the ‘Cult of Busy.’ HUB staff report. Johns Hopkins University HUB (2016):

(2)   Dr. Dana Nelson, PhD. Self-Care 101: Setting Healthy Boundaries. Inner Journeys Counseling (2016):

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