Where Every Family Matters

Give Stress a Holiday This Season

Stress is unavoidable in life — especially during the busiest time of the year — but if you approach it the right way, it won’t dominate your days.

Let me tell you, friends — no one had to twist my arm on October 26 to break out my favorite Christmas PJs and fuzzy socks. That’s right. It marked the date of the beloved Hallmark holiday movie premieres. 

    I know, they’re all so predictable. And every plot is the same. 

    Will a busy, corporate girl get snowed-in to a small town during the Christmas festival and fall in love with a handsome guy who owns a flower shop? Yes, yes she will

    Will a rich, important guy come to a small town for his cousin’s wedding and fall head over heels for the girl who owns a struggling boutique? Yes, yes he will! 

    But, like you, I keep coming back every single time.

    So what is it about Hallmark movies that gives us that comfy Christmas feeling? Beyond the unrealistic love stories and cheesy holiday decorations, there’s something about the simple life portrayed in these movies that attracts us. 

    We want it; we crave it; we need it. 

    And let’s be clear. In these movies, the “happily ever after” is never that the small-town resident moves to the big city and decides to create a busier schedule; it’s the stressed-out person who learns a slower pace of life and quality relationships with the ones she loves is actually the key to a meaningful holiday season.

    If we can truly learn to slow it all down and pursue the things that really matter to us, we can lessen our stress and live a more fulfilled life. 


What’s standing in our way is our good old “frenemy,” stress. 

    A 2014 study by the American Institute of Stress reveals that nearly half of the participants indicated stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Even more alarming statistics show that 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73 percent experience psychological symptoms.

    In addition, a 2015 study released by the American Psychological Association reveals that parents with children younger than the age of 18 living in the home have “a more complicated relationship with stress.” That comes as no surprise to us, right?

    Then the holiday season hits us, and we take our regular stress levels to a whole new dimension. 

    Joseph H. Wandass, III, M.D., a primary care provider with Gallatin Family Wellness, says
“festive stress” can increase the intensity and types of stress that an individual experiences. 

    He says there is research evidence that this is a real entity. External stresses include:  obtaining gifts, long lines, shopping for and preparing food, cleaning, decorating and contemplating finances. Internal stresses can be increased from poor eating habits, altered exercise regimens, seasonal mood variations and altered sleep cycles.

    But we can’t talk about this topic without taking a look at the good kind of stress, too. It’s called eustress, and yes — it’s a real thing. 

    Wandass says, “Not all stress is ‘bad’ stress. For instance, jitters before an exam, a business presentation or sporting activity can enhance your performance, allowing you to achieve your highest mental and physical capabilities.”

    Likewise, the holidays can produce eustress, too. Think about all the things that bring you joy this time of year.

    So — if you want to create the kind of holiday season you actually desire, the key is to tap into what produces eustress — and do your best to minimize the bad stress. It’s not an impossible feat if you set realistic goals, prioritize your to-do lists and stay focused on the true meaning of the season.



Be proactive about finding solutions instead of being reactive to situations. Empower yourself to stop stress from destroying the joy of the season!


Lack of time
Consider time-blocking for tasks. Set a timer and work on one task at a time. Set realistic goals for your family and don’t over-plan activities. Creating margin in your day can allow for unexpected things to happen with ease. Choose a few key events or traditions for the holiday season and ditch the rest. Simplify your routines, prioritize your favorite activities and be flexible to changing plans!

The pressure to have a “perfect” Christmas

You might love watching Hallmark movies, but you don’t have to recreate them. Remember that your kids won’t remember the perfect matching Christmas outfits or the best homemade cinnamon roll recipe; they will remember the time you spent together making memories.


Huge crowds/traffic

Shop at smaller, local stores to avoid big crowds. To take the edge off, try headphones with calming music while you shop.


The “Right” Gifts

For that hard-to-buy-foR person
Try shopping local. Grab a homemade shaving kit from the farmers’ market, an infused olive oil from Herban Market or browse the many unique shops our city has to offer! Consider “in-honor-of” gifts to charitable organizations or “experience” gifts like a membership to the Nashville Zoo or Cheekwood. Or, buy a re-occurring gift like a subscription to Drew Holcomb’s Magnolia record club or StoryWorth, which compiles your family stories into a bound book.

The hassle of

When buying gifts for out-of-town family, think of small, easy-to-ship items. And while gift cards seem a little impersonal, people enjoy getting them — plus they are easy to send. Consider gifts that directly ship from the company like monthly/quarterly subscription boxes or magazine subscriptions. 


Wrapping gifts

Stores like Pottery Barn, Sephora, and Barnes and Noble will wrap presents for free (or for a small fee). To make wrapping easy at home, set up a station that has everything you need right there. Use a string to tie the scissors to the area.


Not being able to afford what you want to give

Your family member will cherish a gift from the heart over something that will financially strap you. Do a crafty DIY gift (crochet a winter scarf, write a poem, bake something sweet, build a picture frame, etc.). Also, giving to those in need can help switch your thoughts from self-pity to gratitude. 


Weight gain

Wandass says eating a healthy diet low in refined carbohydrates (think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and trying to maintain an exercise routine is key. Exercise burns off stress hormones.


Mental toll of preparing for/hosting guests

Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks or hire help (hint: no one even has to know). If cooking isn’t your thing, let Whole Foods prepare the holiday meal. If cleaning stresses you out to the max, hire a company to come in and get it done. There’s no shame in getting help — you can’t do it all!


Prolonged exposure to distant relatives/conversations
It’s healthy to set time limits and boundaries for gatherings you plan to attend that have potential to cause stress. If you get in an uncomfortable or negative conversation, respond with something like, “I’d rather not talk about that right now. We don’t get to see each other much, so I’d love to keep the conversation positive today!”


The loss of a
family member

Maybe this year you’re affected by an empty chair at the table, whether it be through a divorce in the family, an empty nest or the death of a loved one. If appropriate for your situation, think about honoring that person by sharing stories or doing something as a family to honor your missed loved one.


Bring in Downtime

Draw near to your faithful friends

There’s nothing like friendships to get you through stressful times.


Go to a holiday concert or listen to music at home

Research shows that listening to music is one of the top stress reducers. Clear your mind and enjoy the sounds of the season!



Indulge in naps, reading books or meditation. Utilize apps like Headspace, Binaural, Simple Habit and Inscape.

    Go for walks/hikes.

Not only will this help you keep active during the winter, being in nature is also proven to help reduce stress.

    Keep a gratitude journal. Writing down what you are grateful for daily can help you see the good in your life and retrain your brain to focus on the positive.

    Plan your decorating and baking days: Take a day where there’s nothing else on the schedule but getting your home ready for the holidays or baking your family’s favorite treats.


Bring in Meaning

If you mindfully reduce stress, prioritize your activities and carve out downtime in your schedules, you’ll have more time to make memories with the people you love. Here are a few ways to create a holiday season full of depth and meaning:

• Plan fun and free activities together like touring a living nativity or looking at lights. One idea is to let your kids write a list of their favorite things to do and choose one activity per child. This way everyone in the family gets a say.

• Christmas carol for Fannie Battle, nursing homes or your neighbors!

• Participate in the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation.

• Bake sweet treats and deliver to friends and neighbors

• Buy presents for a child off of a wish tree or the Angel Tree, which provides food and gifts for children and families in need.

• Make charitable donations, even if they’re as small as extra change in the Salvation Army buckets

• Volunteer together as a family by visiting a senior home, cleaning out old toys and donating them, making greeting cards or cooking a meal for a family in need. 


    When it comes down to it, we get to choose how we want our December to turn out. Do you want to look back on this time and remember that you were exhausted, frazzled and irritated with the ones you love? Or do you want to remember that you were connected, filled up and thankful for your beautiful, messy life? 

    “Set realistic goals and allow adequate time to plan, execute, and enjoy the holidays,” Wandass reiterates. “Surround yourself with family and friends and enlist their help to accomplish tasks. Don’t alter healthy dietary and exercise regimens. Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine. Above all, keep in mind the eustress ‘joy’ of the holiday season!”

McKenna Hydrick is a writer, speaker and artist in Franklin, Tennessee, who blogs about living her best life amidst struggle, sharing stories, resources and encouragement along the way. Learn more at mckennahydrick.com.


About the Author

McKenna Hydrick

McKenna Hydrick is a mom, blogger and journalist. She lives in Franklin with her husband and children. Hydrick advocates for her kids with food allergies; find her recipes, resources and more at threebittybirds.com.