How to Reduce Holiday Stress – 3 Tips You’ll Love

Alright, my friends. Christmas is in three days and Hannukah began last night. So let me ask you; how are you feeling?

Are you calm, cool, and collected about the upcoming holidays? Or, are you feeling a little bit overwhelmed by everything?

We’ve essentially reached the peak of all-things holiday spirit, and depending on how we think about the bustle of the season, it can really shape how we experience this time of year.

Because let’s face it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if we’re not careful.

We start thinking about all of the last minute things we need to do, the gifts we need to buy, and the Christmas cards that didn’t go out. We stress about maneuvering the travel details and pet care. And our brains start going a little bit crazy as our thoughts get away from us.

If this situation sounds all-too-familiar (and seeing as you’ve landed on this post, I’m guessing that it does!) then you’re in the right place.

Because on this week’s podcast, I am sharing my top strategies to reduce your holiday stress and overwhelm so you can finally enjoy the holiday.

So if you’re ready to calm your racing thoughts and be present this season, then start listening now!

(Prefer to read instead of listening? Awesome! You’ll find the transcript below the recording.)



  • The #1 cause of stress and overwhelm during the holidays
  • My top 3 strategies to reduce stress this season
  • Powerful ways to embrace and celebrate your experiences over the next few weeks.



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Do you struggle with stress or overwhelm during the holidays? What steps do you take to reduce stress? Do you practice any powerful thoughts to help you shift perspective? Let me know below!

How to Reduce Holiday Stress: 3 Tips You’ll Love

Hello friends! How’s it going today?

So, there is a meme floating around the interwebs right now, and it is a split-screen of Will Ferrell dressed as Buddy the Elf screaming and jumping up and down – so excited for Christmas. And on the other side of the screen is King Theoden from the Lord of the Rings, and he is staring stone-faced ahead stating, “so it begins.” The quote above the meme is: “there are two kinds of people when Christmas is near…”

Now, of course, this is a big generalization…most mems are. Nevertheless, I still think this meme, in particular, encompasses this split between how a person chooses to approach the holiday season. 

With Christmas on Wednesday, Hanukkah starting yesterday – Sunday – and New Year’s in a week or so, we’ve just about reached the peak of all-things holiday spirit. And depending on how we think about the bustle of the season, including all of the different tasks on our to-do list, the parties we need to attend, and the people that we’ll spend time with, it can really shape how we experience this time of year.

Holiday Stress

Because let’s face it, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed.

We start thinking about all of the last minute things we need to do, the gifts we need to buy, the Christmas cards that didn’t go out, maneuvering all of the details of traveling, the list goes on and on and on.  And if we’re not careful, our brains start to go a little bit crazy and we let our thoughts get away from us. We start moving away from the spirit of Buddy the Elf, and start embodying the dread of King Theoden.

Can you relate to any of this? Has any of this ever happened to you? Do you ever feel like Theoden?

(Also, shout out to all of you amazing followers on Instagram who helped me identify who Theoden actually was. I couldn’t remember if that scene was from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I know I know, I’m still embarrassed about it. But thank you for helping me figure it out. And by the way, if you aren’t following me on Instagram yet, why not? Follow me @imbusybeingawesome for all kinds of tips and thoughts and musings and chances to help me identify random people on memes.)

How to Handle Holiday Stress

I was inspired to tackle the topic of holiday stress from a slightly different angle today because of my own experience dealing with overwhelm and stress about the holiday bustle last week. 

I thought that I would share with you my story and my experience of feeling super busy and overwhelmed to help put these practices into perspective. Hopefully, it will give you some tangible examples to grab onto so you can apply them in your life.

Now, of course, you might not be dealing with the same types of stress or feeling the same types of busy that I was. But hopefully, you can find yourself in the story and see how the strategies that I used might work in your life and your situation as well.

Busyness and Your Mind

I want to start with a bit of a truth bomb. Then I will pull that statement apart and offer examples to help explain what I’m talking about.

So here’s the truth bomb. Being busy is a state of mind. And feeling overwhelmed is a result of your thoughts.

Here’s the deal…things may seem incredibly busy and out of control. You may feel super stressed and think that there’s no way you can keep up with everything on your to-do list. You might be wondering how on Earth you’re going to get all of the holiday shopping done, get the house cleaned for guests, and start cooking for all of those guests. And you might even be feeling some apprehension for when those very guests will be staying in your house over the next few days.

Maybe you think your schedule is so busy that you won’t be able to get everything done before traveling for the holidays – spoiler alert, that’s what I was dealing with.

Now, believe me, I know how overwhelming these thoughts can feel. And I know these feelings often feel completely out of your control. But I promise you, being busy is a state of mind. If you feel busy, it is because you’re having busy thoughts. When it comes down to it, it is all about how you choose to think about your circumstances. Because again, your circumstances are neutral.

All right, let’s put this into perspective.

My “Busy” Schedule

Last Thursday I was driving home from work. I had just given my last final for the fall semester, which is amazing. And I did experience a fleeting feeling of excitement that I was done. But after about 15 seconds of relief, my brain went into overdrive. 

I started thinking, oh my gosh, this next week and a half is going to be so busy. I have no idea how I’m going to get everything done before I need to get on a plane and fly to Minnesota. And I have to grade 60 finals, grade 30 papers, grade 30 15-20 minute podcasts, I have to calculate and enter all of the grades, I have to get ready for the holidays with wrapping gifts, figure out travel arrangements, make sure everything is squared away for pet care, figure out how we’re getting to the airport at 5:00 am, and the list went on and on. 

Seriously, I was spinning out in major overwhelm and drama. 

And of course, when you keep focusing on all of the things you have to do with all of these negative thoughts like, “there’s no way I’m going to get it all done,” it’s so easy to spiral out of control. It’s so easy to focus on the negative because of that powerful confirmation bias. If you constantly think, “oh my gosh I am SO busy. There is so much to do, and I’ll never get it all done.” You are going to find evidence to prove that thought true every single time. 

How to Stop Being Busy?

So what can we do? How can we handle these overwhelming feelings of busy-ness? Because let’s be honest – they are going to come up. We are human. 

Well, the first thing to do is to raise your awareness. Start noticing what you’re thinking and start questioning whether these thoughts are serving you or not.

And that’s exactly what I had to do. 

As I caught myself starting to indulge in these emotions of overwhelm and indecision, I stepped back and noticed what my brain was doing. I noticed that I was telling myself I didn’t know where to start. I believed that I didn’t know how I’d get everything done. And I was telling myself all of these negative stories. 

(And again, this is why coaching, self-coaching, and doing thought work is so important. Because you can work with a coach or start catching yourself and learn how to identify these unhelpful thoughts that are holding you back and stop them in their tracks.)

So as I felt myself getting tense and anxious, I asked myself, what’s going on here? Why am I feeling so tense? What am I thinking about that’s making me feel this way? And I realized it was because I was telling myself I was so busy. And I was telling myself there wasn’t enough time to get it all done. I believed that this was a fact. I believed that busyness was a fact.

Busyness is a Thought

But here’s the truth, my friends. Busyness is a thought. It is not a circumstance. And the reason why we know this is because not everyone can agree on what being busy means.

Just think about this.

I could look at my to-do list of five things, and I could think to myself, “oh my gosh I’m going to be so busy today. There’s no way I can get this done before the guests arrive for dinner.”

But at the same time, someone else could look at that same list, and they might think: “This is all I have to do? I can get this done by noon and still a time to go to the gym before everyone gets for dinner.” 

What Are you Choosing to Think?

So again, busy is not your circumstance. Busy is a thought about your circumstance. It is how you choose to think about your day. What’s more, we often feel busy when we haven’t taken time to think about the day ahead, to plan things out, and to approach things one at a time.

Think about when you look at a long to-do list. If you just pick something on the list and get started working on it, if you’re anything like me, your brain keeps going back to that list wondering when you’re going to get the rest of it done. And your brain circles around and around and around thinking, “I’m not working fast enough.” “I’m never going to get all of this done.” “This is impossible.” And ultimately, your brain is so busy bouncing from thought to thought, wondering when you’re going to get things done, that you never actually focus on the task at hand.

Make a Plan

But when you take time to plan out exactly when you are going to complete each task throughout the day or the week ahead — and I highly recommend using time blocking to do this — then you remove that feeling of overwhelm and busyness. This way, when you sit down and you look at your to-do list, you know exactly when you are going to do each thing.

And if your brain happens to shift to the usual pattern of, “I don’t know when I’m going to get everything done” you can reassure yourself and say, “Yes I do. I’ve mapped it out. I know exactly when I’m going to wrap presents and make dinner and get the guest room ready for my in-laws. 

So if you’re feeling busy and overwhelmed, and you think it’s from all of the things you want to finish before the end of the holidays, (or at any time throughout the year, really) I invite you to pause and think about what’s going on in your mind.

Admittedly, this is going to feel completely counterintuitive to what you think you should be doing. Your brain will be thinking, “I need to get busy. I need to take action. I need to do things.” But I want to challenge that knee-jerk response. Instead, I suggest that you slow down first so that you can take action with clarity.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Just take a moment and ask yourself, what’s going on right now? What am I thinking about that’s creating this feeling of overwhelm? What else am I feeling? And what thoughts do I have about my schedule or my to-do list or the holidays in general?

Take some time and empty all of your thoughts on paper. Get a good look at them. When you can identify what you’re thinking, you can be much more deliberate about which thoughts are serving you and which ones aren’t. And you can let those latter thoughts go.

So this is exactly what I did once I got home from work last Thursday after I was dealing with a bit of busy-drama. I did a giant thought download. In fact, I filled a couple of pages of paper with all the different thoughts that I had surrounding the next couple of weeks.

I wrote down all of my worries and all of my fears and all of my stress and all of my to-dos. And once I had everything listed, I reminded myself that I get to choose how I think about the holidays.

I get to choose how I think about my to-do list. 

You Get to Choose How You Think and Feel

Remember, your to-do list is neutral. This is your circumstance. You get to choose how you want to think and feel and act in this situation. When we take note of the negative thoughts that we’re thinking, and we take ownership of them, we can also clean them up and start thinking in ways that serve much better. And when we do that, the feelings of overwhelm and busyness go away.

(As a side note – if you want a little bit more information on this idea of your to-do list being neutral, I definitely recommend going back to episode number 16, where I do a deep dive into the neutrality of your to-do list to help you stay focused and get more things done.)

Questions to Consider

So take a minute and ask yourself: how am I feeling about Christmas or Hanukkah, or New Year’s, or all of my family coming over? What do I want to do before this happens? What do I want to finish in terms of preparing for Christmas? And what do I want to do to get ready for the New Year’s party? What work do I want to finish in between Christmas and New Year’s? How do I feel about all of these tasks? What am I thinking about all these tasks?

Once you answer these questions, then it’s time to look at your thoughts and clean up the ones that aren’t helping you. Because remember, you can think whatever you want about that situation. You can think whatever you want about your to-do list or about the family Christmas party or about the lines at Target. You get to decide. So why not choose the thought that serves you?

Choose the Thought That Serves You

And if you find you’re feeling stressed from your thoughts about all of the things you want to accomplish in the coming weeks, I recommend taking some time to map out a plan. When exactly are you going to tend to these tasks? What tasks can you delegate to other members of your family or friends? What can you let go of? Is all of this necessary? Make a concrete plan so that you can silence those overwhelming thoughts like, “I’ll never get this done.”

And once you create that plan, then deliberately choose thoughts that will offer motivation and commitment to follow through on that plan. 

And again, this is exactly what I did. After I did my big thought download, I created my list of tasks. I decided what I wanted to do and what I could let go of. I figured out what I could delegate. 

How Do You Want to Think About This?

After that, I decided what I wanted to think about this list. I chose a few thoughts that are simple, yet quite helpful, and they served me really well. 

And those thoughts were: I can totally do this. This stuff is no big deal. And who better than me to do this?

I find that this last thought is especially helpful when I am preparing for a party, or the holiday, or baking, or Christmas shopping, etc. Basically, I use it for anything that is important to me but might be feeling like a chore right about now.

Remember, you chose to include these things on your list. So who better than you to do them? As a side note — if you can think of someone who might be better than you when you ask yourself that question, then delegate! Ask for help! That is absolutely a great option. 

And if any of these thoughts resonate with you – “I can totally do this.” “This stuff is no big deal.” “Who better than me to do this?” – then I encourage you to take them and use them as well. As I mentioned, they’ve been incredibly helpful for me in terms of reducing stress and overwhelm as I prepared for the holidays over the last couple of weeks.

How Do You Want to Show Up?

Now the second way to help reduce holiday stress and overwhelm is to focus on you and how you want to show up over the next few weeks. And in fact, I encourage you to ask yourself this question every single day. Because again, you get to choose.

How do I want to show up today? How do I want to show up at this party? And how do I want to show up with my family this week? How do I want to show up at the grocery store at 5:00 p.m. on December 23?

And again, I kept checking in with myself using similar questions, too. 

How I Want to Show Up

One of the things that I kept thinking about that was causing me stress was all of the work that I had to do over winter break. And since I am traveling to Minnesota for about a week to spend time with my family, I found myself thinking about all of the work that I planned to leave behind so that I could enjoy my time with my family work-free over Christmas. 

Now, I’m not going to lie, thinking about leaving my work at home and not bringing anything with me was really challenging. I definitely battle with workaholic tendencies if I’m not careful. If I am not mindful of my time, I easily slip into thinking I always need to be working. And I know this about myself. 

So when I was thinking about my time at home with my family, I had these sneaky thoughts saying things like, “think of all the work you should be doing during this time.” Or “how are you going to get everything done if you take 6 days off?” And “maybe you should take some work with you and just work during the downtimes when people aren’t doing anything.”

Mindful and Present

Now as I mentioned, I know this about myself. I am fully aware that my brain is going to go here. It does so every single time that I contemplate taking time off. Since I know this about myself, I decided to be proactive.

And I asked myself last week: how do I want to show up with my family when I’m home in Minnesota? And I spent a lot of time thinking about this question. I thought about all of the excuses my brain was going to tell me that I “should be working.” I thought about the discomfort that I would feel when I wasn’t working.

But I also thought about spending those valuable days with my family fully present and engaged. And when I thought about that, I was able to answer the important question: how do I want to show up with my family when I’m home in Minnesota?

I realized that I want to show up fully present with my family. I want to be engaged and relaxed. And I want to be mindful of every conversation and experience. I want to be flexible and carefree so that I can adapt to changes in plans without any drama – which is sometimes challenging for me as a very Type A person. I want to feel love all of the time for every single person. And I also want to be accepting and loving toward myself when my brain does start protesting this current state. Because it will happen. And when it does, I want to notice it, let it go, and return to being fully present and mindful of the time with those I love the most.

What Do You Need to Do to Make it Happen?

Once I decided how I wanted to show up over the next week, I then asked myself: if this is how I want to show up, what do I need to do to make it happen? And once again, I spent time doing a thought download of all of the different things I need to do to ensure that I show up in fully present with my family.

I knew I needed to work ahead before going home. I wanted to get this podcast recorded and scheduled so it came out on time for you on Monday even though I am with my family relaxing and having a good time. And I knew I needed to write and schedule all of my social media posts. I knew I needed to schedule my newsletter. I knew I needed to get all of my grading done for my students. And I knew I needed to leave work at home so that I couldn’t bring it with me to Minnesota. I also knew I needed to continue doing daily thought work even when I am at home on vacation with my family to help me get into that state of mindfulness and relaxation and presence every day.

And when I made this plan for myself, and when I identified all of the things I could do to help ensure I follow through on that plan, I set myself up for success. I found a way to be more present and engaged so that I enjoy each moment of this time with my family rather than letting it fly by in a constant state of “busy” juggling between family time and work time.

Anxious About Time

Now again, maybe your circumstance looks different than mine. Maybe the balance between work and family isn’t your stumbling block. Maybe instead you’re thinking about all of the different family Christmas parties you have to attend. 

I was talking with a client the other day who is attending four different family Christmases over the course of two days. She was feeling incredibly overwhelmed about that busy schedule. She was anxious about making it to each of the meals on time. And she was overwhelmed with getting all of the gifts in order and wrapped and ready to go. She was dreading one of the dinners in particular because of a difficult sister-in-law. And she was already feeling exhausted about the parties, which were still a week away.

Make a Plan

So again, we took some time to brainstorm how she wants to feel about these four different Christmases. How does she want to think? How does she want to feel? And how does she want to act?

And she decided that she wants to be present and engaged and grateful for the fact that she has so much family around her and that she gets to spend this time with them during the season.

So if you can hear a version of yourself in this story, then ask yourself. “How do I want to show up in this situation?” And then once you figure that out, ask yourself, “how can I do this? What can I do ahead of time to make this happen? What can I do when I’m there to make this happen?” And take some time to thoughtfully answer these questions. Identify the thoughts that aren’t serving you, and focus on the ones that bring you those feelings of engagement and gratitude and presence and mindfulness.

Overwhelmed by Challenging People

Now one other situation that tends to create a lot of stressful thoughts and overwhelming thoughts are challenging relationships that you would rather not deal with during the holidays. As I mentioned, that same client was dreading one of the Christmas parties specifically because she didn’t want to interact with her sister-in-law. She believed her sister-in-law always criticized everything she did, was always one-upping her, was always complaining, etc.

Of course, when you have these thoughts about a person, it makes it pretty difficult to have a positive relationship with that person. Right?

You Get to Control You

Now, remember, we can not control how our sister-in-law acts. But, we can control how we act. We can control how we show up. So just like our to-do list, and just like the four Christmas parties, how your sister-in-law acts is neutral.

But the way you think about her behavior is what makes her behavior positive or negative in your mind. So again, how do you want to show up around your sister-in-law? How do you want to think about her? And how do you want to feel about her? You get to decide.

Now again, she gets to act however she wants. And chances are, she still is going to criticize. In fact, expect her to. Expect her to try and one-up everything you say. Expect her to complain about everything. That’s what she does every year, so why would it be different?

But what if rather than expecting her to show up differently — in the way that you think is appropriate – what if you just let her be who she is? What if you just think, “that’s just Pam being Pam” and you let her do her thing? Because here’s the truth. Her comments have absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with her. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow. And I know that it doesn’t always feel true. But I promise you. Her comments have everything to do with her and nothing to do with you.

It Has Nothing to Do With You

And I can hear some of you saying, but you don’t understand Paula. She constantly criticizes everything I do. My response to this might sound a little bit crazy but just stick with me. What if you just agreed with her? What if she said to you, “I can’t believe you burnt the pie. You always mess up the dessert for Christmas.”

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “at least I brought the stupid pie! I don’t see you bringing anything.” I promise you, 100% of the time, that kind of response is not going to help you show up filled with engagement and gratitude and mindfulness.

It’s About Her

So what if you just agreed with her?

Because again, this comment is about her. She probably knows that she didn’t bring anything, and so she’s making herself feel better by criticizing what you did bring. 

So what if she said exactly that: “I can’t believe you burnt the pie. You always mess up the dessert for Christmas.” And what if you replied, “Oh my gosh, I know! It’s so ridiculous. Oh well. Now I know to put foil on the top of the pie next time.” 

No drama. No frustration. You just think to yourself, that’s just Pam being Pam. And you let it go. 

This is an option.

Now, I know it isn’t always easy. I know that it can take a lot of thought work and a lot of practice to let these negative feelings go. And to allow other people to be who they are. And to remember that their thoughts, feelings, and actions have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. But you can do it. You get to decide how you show up in every situation.

Other Resources on Difficult People

And if you do have challenging people in your life, or you are anticipating difficult situations or conversations over the next couple weeks, I really encourage you to go back to episode 18, which does a deep dive into how to deal with difficult people. And I talk through a whole bunch of different scenarios and offer a whole bunch of different strategies and I really take these concepts to a much deeper level to put them into perspective.

You Get to Choose

So whether you’re staring at a long to-do list, or you’re in an overcrowded shopping mall, or you’re talking with unpleasant people at the office Christmas party, remember this: You get to decide how you show up. You get to choose how you think, how you feel, and how you act about every situation. 

All of those situations are neutral. Your to-do list. The lines at the airport. The traffic on the interstate. The snowy weather. The people at the New Year’s party. All of it. It is all neutral. And this is incredible news. Because you get to decide how you experience this holiday season.

Powerful Thoughts to Think

Now, rather than offering a single quote of the week like I normally do, I want to offer you some of my favorite go-to questions and thoughts that I use all of the time to make the most of otherwise challenging situations. I invite you to use any and all of them as much as you want. They have been super helpful for me and shifting my thoughts, focusing on the positive, and reducing the unnecessary drama.

The first thought is: “This is perfect.” Again, it’s such a simple thought. But when you really start practicing it, your brain is going to start finding evidence for why the situation is perfect. Sometimes that confirmation bias works for the good.

Another powerful thought is: “This isn’t about me.” So whether you are interacting with an unpleasant person on the airplane, or your uncle during Christmas Eve dinner, remind yourself. This isn’t about me.

I also love to ask myself, “How can I make this fun?” Are you overwhelmed by needing to wrap all of the Christmas gifts before Christmas morning? Are you frustrated by sitting in holiday traffic on the highway? How can you make these situations fun? I promise you can.

Another question that I often ask myself when I’m starting to feel frustrated or annoyed is, “What would love do in this situation?” I promise, your brain will come up with some really powerful answers. 

And the final thought that I want to offer you to try on throughout the rest of the holiday season is, “People are doing the best they can.” Put that thought on repeat, practice it as much as possible, and watch your perspective shift.

Grab Your Free Resource Now!

And if you want more thoughts to practice and use throughout the season and beyond, I created a list of some of my favorite thoughts that I use frequently. And any time that I find myself shifting into that negative space with thoughts that aren’t serving me, I pull out this list, I find ones that work, and I put them on repeat. 

I’m telling you, it works 100% of the time. 

If you want to grab your list, just go to Just click on the link in the show notes and I will send it right to you. And if you have any powerful thoughts, I would love to hear them! Send me a message on Instagram @imbusybeingawesome or an email at paula @ I will add them to the collection.

Alright my friends, that’s gonna do it for us this week. So tell me, are you busy being awesome? If so, be sure to snap a picture, throw it up on your Instagram stories, and be sure to tag me @imbusybeingawesome. I would love to cheer you on!

Also, if you want to keep getting more great strategies to increase your productivity, manage your time, and start living your best life, then be sure to hit the subscribe button on your podcast app now. And while you’re there, would you leave me a quick review?

And finally, do you know of anyone who would benefit from hearing this message? Then be a rockstar and share it with a friend! 

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk to you soon.

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