Blog Science Holiday Stress Is Real — Keep Calm With These 5 Tips  
Holiday Stress Is Real — Keep Calm With These 5 Tips  
Holiday Stress Is Real — Keep Calm With These 5 Tips  

Authors: Therabody Scientists: Tim Roberts, MSc; Kyle Silvey, PhD; Michelle Darian, MS, MPH, RD, LDN  

Yes, the holiday season is a time of joy. It brings gatherings with loved ones we may not see regularly, much-needed time away from work or school, and a collective sense of reflection. However, stress often tags along as an uninvited plus one to these celebrations.  

Traveling (and unpredictable disruptions in travel plans), spending time with extended families, and shopping for gifts can force feelings of pressure that boil over into worry. This affects not only your mental state — and how much you can actually enjoy the holidays — but can impact your physical health as well.   

If stress consistently sneaks up on you or even abruptly takes you by storm each year, it’s time to start practicing self-care and prioritizing mind and body wellness. Taking just a few minutes each day for yourself can help you minimize stress and show up for all the season’s events as the best (or at least less tense) version of yourself.  

At Therabody, we’re keenly aware of how different stressors impact both mind and body health. And Therabody’s solutions help the brain and body relax and decompress. Here are our top recommendations on how to use technology to get ahead of and manage your holiday stress.   

How Does Stress Impact the Body?   

Whether you’re stressed just thinking about seeing your in-laws or physically stressed while cooking and getting a feast on the table, it triggers a similar cascade of events in the body.  

Internally, there’s increased production of the hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, creating a fight-or-flight response in your body. And physically, you may feel: [1]  

  • Your heart rate quicken 
  • Wired from increased mental alertness  
  • Your energy spike and then crash from elevated blood sugar levels 
  • Bloated from retaining sodium 
  • Blocked up from food moving slower through your intestines  

Changes in your daily routine (such as increased alcohol consumption, less physical activity, and frequent large meals filled with foods you may not eat otherwise) can also strain your body and exacerbate these physical feelings of stress.  

Together, stress and shifts in daily schedules create the perfect combination to feel subpar. But the solution isn’t to eliminate stress. That’s quite frankly not possible. Rather, the goal is to effectively manage stress so you’re not in a constant state of tension.  

That entails becoming aware of your stressors, finding simple ways to get ahead of or manage stress, and bringing some normalcy into the season when the days and weeks seem to morph into each other.   

Manage Holiday Stress With These Tips  

As we head into the holiday season, here are five ways you can better manage stress. 

Put Pen to Paper and Identify Your Stressors   

Step one is to fully account for what you know to be some of your biggest stressors of the season. Is it a chaotic kitchen when you’re cooking a meal? Is it a messy house before you host? Or are family dynamics challenging to navigate?  
Try jotting down a list of these top scenarios when you often feel strained and if there are certain days you know you will be exposed to them.  

This allows you plenty of time to come up with a game plan to get ahead of stress or strategize on coping mechanisms that you can utilize during the days leading up to the stressful encounter.  

Doing this may also shed light on what stressors and scenarios can be removed altogether. Do you always run out of oven or stovetop space before dinner? Try using a slow cooker to keep mashed potatoes warm instead. Or, if you loathe baking dessert, head to a local bakery for a pie as an alternative. Take a moment to review the list and see if there are any creative solutions to remove potentially avoidable stress.   

Practice Breathwork  

Breathwork encompasses targeted and intentional breathing exercises. It’s scientifically shown to promote a state of relaxation and improve stress. [2,3]  

In particular, low, deep breaths help counter the fight-or-flight response by controlling blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability. [4

And if you feel yourself retreating mentally during holiday celebrations, breathwork may also help pull your attention and focus back to the present. Breathing deeply from the diaphragm (a muscle that sits below the ribs to help you inhale and exhale) increases oxygen intake — delivering more oxygen to the blood. This helps fuel and energize the body’s cells and gives you a natural boost in physical and mental energy. [5

Starting a breathwork practice may feel intimidating. Here, we offer a few standard exercises to help get you started. Furthermore, the Theragun Sense and Theragun PRO Plus come with guided breathwork experiences (which live in the Therabody app) to help make breathing exercises accessible and sustainable while helping your mind to relax.  

Prioritize Getting Daily Movement (and Recovery) In  

Altered holiday schedules may also mean that your regular fitness schedule is paused. Regular physical activity is a scientifically shown way to reduce stress and helps you manage it better when it arises. [6] So, if you’re suddenly exercising a lot less than usual around the holidays, that could hurt your ability to regulate your mood — leading to stress.   

It’s completely OK to take a break from your usual exercise routine; you can prioritize getting movement in other ways to give yourself a break from some of the chaos. 

Stretch on a yoga mat in the morning, walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations, recruit visitors for a themed fitness class, or even run errands. You can also do any of these on your own when craving a little solitude. 

While these activities may seem low impact, they can have a major impact on your mental state. It’s still important to maintain proper recovery methods afterward and stretch, use your Theragun, and refuel and hydrate with water.   

Relieve Built Up Muscle Tension 

Muscle tension isn’t exclusive to a hard workout — it also goes hand-in-hand with stress. Stress causes muscles throughout the body to constantly be guarded and taut. For example, some muscles in the mid-back may be tense due to changes in breathing also brought on by stress. Over time, that may lead to discomfort, pain, and even headaches if the stress isn’t addressed. [7

So, if the holidays bring about a lot of mental or emotional stress, your muscles may also start to bear part of the burden. On top of that, there’s always the potential physical discomfort from long travel, sleeping on a relative’s pull-out couch, or carrying arms full of shopping bags.   

To help release this built up tension in your muscles, reach for your Theragun. The Theragun’s percussive therapy also helps relieve aches and pains and muscle soreness. [8] And it can also conveniently fit into a suitcase to make sure it is on hand during holiday travel. 

Aim for a Consistent Sleep Schedule   

Stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship. Daytime stress affects nighttime sleep. And sleeping poorly at night impairs the body’s ability to effectively manage stress. [9

During the holidays, you may have more social events to attend that last well into the evening, or you may want to stay up later to finish a favorite holiday movie. But maintaining a consistent sleep schedule — meaning you go to bed and wake up around the same time (within an hour) day to day — is essential for maintaining your body’s desired circadian rhythms for optimal health. [10

Other ways to support sleep are by keeping caffeine consumption to earlier in the day, avoiding alcohol within a few hours before bed, and putting away screens to prevent blue light exposure. [11] Oh, and fitting in physical activity during the day can also help you feel ready to hit the hay.  

If you’re still feeling a bit wired right before bed, try using SmartGoggles. This eye mask uses Therabody’s exclusive biometric sensor that customizes treatments to lower your heart rate to a more relaxed state. Its warming, gentle massages can also help you wind down. In fact, research shows that those who use SmartGoggles before bed for three weeks have better sleep quality, sleep longer, and report feeling less stressed than at baseline. 

And if you’re looking for the perfect gift for your mom or dad, your athletic friend, or your favorite world-traveler, Therabody has you covered.  

Key Takeaways 

  • While often considered the best time of the year, the holiday season also comes with a unique set of stressors. 
  • Experiencing too much stress or not managing it properly can leave you feeling tense, burned-out, fatigued, and irritated, during a time when you ideally want to be fully present.  
  • It’s important to prioritize self-care during this time to help manage and mitigate your stress so you can fully enjoy the season.  
  • Identifying your stressors, practicing breathwork, moving daily, and keeping to a consistent sleep schedule can help you effectively cope with stressors you encounter.  
  • Therabody can support those efforts with science-backed technology.