Close-up of four white Christmas ball ornaments and a red cranberry branch resting on a bed of snow.

Holiday Cheer: Smart Tips to Manage the Stress of the Season

By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN Friday, November 18, 2022

5 Second Summary

Food, gift-giving, and visitors are just a few common causes of stress during the winter holidays. Here’s how to stress less and enjoy the season more.

As the autumn leaves start to fall, the holiday season is upon us. And between the hustle and bustle of decorating, shopping, food preparation, and social gatherings, the holidays can be a source of increased stress. 

Anyone can feel overwhelmed this time of year, but for people living with neuromuscular diseases, managing the additional activities and expenses is crucial to maintaining mental, physical, and financial health. Follow these tips to minimize end-of-year stress and enjoy this festive season.

Diet and food prep

If you are cooking a holiday meal, review the recipes you intend to include weeks before they are needed. Determine which dishes can be made ahead of time and frozen. To prevent fatigue, pace yourself by cooking only one recipe per day or every other day. For cooks who can’t lift a huge turkey or use a hot oven, order the meat from a local restaurant or grocery store, and stick to easier-to-prepare side dishes.

And when in doubt, delegate tasks to family and friends. When entertaining, divide the work by throwing a potluck party. Use paper products to make cleanup a snap. Don’t overexert yourself before the party begins; ask a friend or two to arrive early to help with the preparation.

Holiday dishes are notoriously high in fat. But for individuals with special diets or food restrictions related to a diagnosis, consult a dietitian and care provider on specific options and goals.

5 ways to eat smart

To enjoy the holidays without sabotaging your waistline, here are some tips:

  • Don’t skip meals. Going to a holiday function starving will invariably lead to overeating.
  • Bring healthy dishes to holiday events. If cooking is a chore, pick up a fruit or vegetable tray at the market. For people who have difficulty swallowing, bring a smoothie, and let the host pour it into small cups to share with other guests.
  • Load half your plate with vegetables, fruit, and lean protein. Take only a bite or two of foods with creams or sauces.
  • Alcohol inhibits your ability to make good food choices. If you drink alcohol, limit consumption — a conservative serving is four ounces. Calorically, red wine is always a better choice than mixed drinks.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and feel full. Holding a glass of water also keeps your hands occupied, so you aren’t munching on the appetizers.

Families and friends

Holidays sometimes create unwanted drama. The uncle who overindulges in the eggnog and the sisters who always fight are emotionally draining on those around them. People with chronic health conditions need to set parameters regarding visitors, whether family or friends.

Before the holidays, it’s a good idea to communicate with your potential visitors. Schedule visits when you typically feel the strongest. For instance, many people with neuromuscular diseases have more energy in the morning and tend to tire in the afternoon. Crowds can be overwhelming for some individuals, especially those experiencing sensory loss or communication difficulties. Limit the number of visitors to two or three. If you can join friends and family outside your home, exiting when your stamina is waning is easier.

If you are traveling to see relatives, consider staying at a hotel. An all-suite property is typically more spacious. The added square footage may be worth the expense for people traveling with bulky medical equipment. Book reservations early, as hotels have a limited number of accessible rooms. If you are entertaining houseguests, limit the number of days they can visit or ask them to spend some of their visit in a hotel.

Gifts and other expenses

Overspending on gifts, party outfits, decorations, and all the other activities surrounding the holidays also can cause stress. Planning for purchases and setting a realistic budget is paramount to avoid the buyer’s remorse that accompanies an inflated credit card bill. 

If someone with a neuromuscular disease is on your gift list, find affordable ideas in the Quest Gift and Giving Guide, which features MDA Ambassadors’ favorite shopping tips and product picks.

7 ways to be a smart gift-giver

Consider these tips to get your holiday shopping off to a good start:

  • Make a list of every person who will receive a gift and determine the total budget. Before heading to the mall, compare prices online. To avoid excess crowds and traffic, purchase gifts throughout the year, as items go on sale — or shop online.
  • Organize a gift exchange. Instead of giving to every person, suggest that family members, perhaps adult siblings, draw a name and exchange a gift with a predetermined price cap.
  • Keep it simple and donate to a favorite charity, like MDA, on behalf of friends.
  • Save money and buy decorating supplies at the dollar store. For people who have difficulty cutting wrapping paper or manipulating tape, stock up on gift bags and tissue paper. Adding a $1 ornament can turn a solid-colored bag into a holiday-themed package.
  • Handmade items are all the rage. Save money by rolling up your sleeves and creating one-of-a-kind gifts. Some examples, like building a birdhouse or painting a set of notecards, can be made with children’s help. Look for inspiration on Pinterest.
  • Scan the newspaper for free concerts and performances. Check with the Convention and Visitor Bureaus where you might travel for affordable events, parades, and holiday markets.
  • Seek out volunteer opportunities. Reach out to local schools, religious organizations, and community groups who may need assistance with holiday baking, decorating, or gift-wrapping. Dedicating your time to a cause is a great way to give back.

Stress less

Above all else, don’t feel pressured to be perfect during the holidays. It’s OK to scale back. Be picky about how you spend your time to ensure you’re rested for the events you attend. 

In other words, during this hectic time of year, remember that it’s OK to say, “No.”

So, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the season.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.