6 ways to relieve holiday stress and burnout

Ahh, the holiday season is upon us! The halls are decked with garland. Homes and storefronts are glittering in twinkle lights. The smell of peppermint mocha lingers in the air. And, our holiday stress levels are probably working their way up to peak level.

This season often brings an abundance of work stress, in addition to the outside-of-work stress that’s happening. Maybe it’s your organization’s year-end push for sales or donations. Maybe you’re racing the clock as you wrap client projects before taking a vacation.

Maybe you’re dreading working on Christmas or Hanukkah. You have office parties to plan and attend, cards and gifts to send to colleagues and customers. As our to-do lists swell, many of us nudge self-care to the very end or forgo it altogether. No wonder we often end up feeling frazzled rather than festive each December.

Not this holiday season. Try some or all of these tips and kiss your holiday work stress goodbye — at least, until next year.


Whether you thrive off checklists or can’t stand the sight of them, there’s no denying they can be a helpful tool — especially when work duties shift at year-end. My suggestion for staying sane is to channel your inner Santa and make two lists this season.

The first list is everything you have to do during the holiday season, before any vacation or when the books close. This list is not a bucket list or a place to dump every little administrative task. With this list you’ll track of all your priorities, everything you absolutely must do before the holiday season ends — whether that’s sending a job to the printer or crushing a milestone for a team project.

Then, make a second “to don’t” list of everything you won’t do this holiday season at work. Maybe this year you don’t help with the annual office holiday party. Maybe that networking coffee will need to wait until 2019. Do you really need to hand-write Christmas cards to everyone in your work network? Maybe the answer is “no,” or maybe it’s a resounding “yes!” Make your lists and relieve yourself of to-dos you dread, not ones that bring you joy (keep those on the to-do list, but be realistic about your time). Then, invite in the peace of mind that comes from crossing off all the items on your list this year.


When work overwhelms it’s tempting to skip scheduled breaks and power through the day to complete everything on your list. Some days, everyone has to do this. During the holidays, one skipped lunch may lead to another and another, and soon you’ve lost several precious hours of free time. Believe it or not, this has an adverse effect on your productivity. Studies have shown breaks increase worker productivity.

Breaks help us clear our heads and manage stress so that we come back to our work feeling refreshed and restored. So reclaim your time this holiday season — whenever possible, take the breaks your job allows. Then, notice your focus soar and stress abate because you’ve had time away from your screen/workload. It’s a little gift you can give yourself this season.


I love a good Christmas cookie — no shame. With the barrage of holiday gift baskets and goodies, it’s easy to celebrate the season with something sweet. And yet we all know it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

My advice? Treat yourself well! Have that homemade cookie when it’s really worth it, but don’t let daily indulgence wreck your health. When treats are everywhere, the constant temptation might cause our willpower to buckle from having to work so hard. Find other ways to swap in a healthier “treat yourself” moment during the workday — whether it’s brewing a warm cuppa festive holiday tea or taking 15 to discuss Hallmark Christmas movies with your work bestie. Maybe you take an afternoon walk away from the free food and come back feeling refreshed and a little more virtuous than your colleagues.

Treating yourself well extends beyond dodging holiday cookie tray. Make sure to eat regular, nutritious meals, including protein and vegetables. Stay hydrated. Move your body. And please: Take a sick day if you’re sick! You’ll recover faster and avoid spreading that holiday bug. During this busy time of the year, many of us let self-care slide. Right now is exactly when we need it most. In order to slay the day, you’ve got to take care of you.


Get strategic. Analyze your holiday work with laser focus and consider how you might simplify it. If you send client gifts, for example, could you mail all the same gift baskets from the same company, which offers delivery? Mailing holiday cards to your network? What would happen if you sent an e-card this year or waited to send a New Year’s card instead? Same goes for personal tasks: If you’re short on time, skip the baking and bring store-bought pie or better yet, eggnog, to your office shindig. Pay for gift wrapping rather than doing it on your own.

If you’re overwhelmed by all you have to do, start by thinking through your most time-consuming holiday tasks and make them easier or (gasp) avoid them altogether. Gift the same ah-mazing bottle of pinot to all your girlfriends for Christmas. Make it simple and let that stress go. You’ll be thanking yourself later.


Many of us plan time off for the holiday season, but the crunch to prep for vacation can often feel like, well, a crunch. The best advice I have is to start planning for your time away early. If you haven’t already, clear that time off with your supervisor.

Next, think of your work leading up to the vacation and what will need to be covered while you’re gone. Try and do as much of the work yourself or make arrangements so it will be done. Be sure to think ahead to what’s coming up in the office when you’re back as well. You might have to ask for help, but it’ll land easier if you can show how you’ve prepared ahead of time for your break. Remember to be realistic about what you can and can’t get done before you go.

If you work for an organization, create a vacation plan for your boss. This document will show what you’ve care of before you go, and any stray tasks that need to be completed (hopefully with an explanation of who’s covering this, or how they’ll get done.) You can share it with your manager a few days before you leave. If you work for yourself, consider doing the same … for yourself. This will give you the peace of mind so you can truly unplug while you’re out. And don’t forget to set your seasonal out-of-office message!


No matter how much you plan, you can’t outwit every holiday stressor that comes your way. Emergencies will happen. You might forget to add something to your list. You may end up working late — for whatever reason — the day of Christmas Eve. Your office party could get weird.

Life is unpredictable, but we can control the ways we cope with holiday-induced anxiety. In fact, did you know one of the best ways manage anxiety, whether surprising or expected, is by simply breathing? Yogis all over know this — and science backs it up as well — that taking a moment to breathe mindfully helps us calm down.

Try this right now: Sit up in your chair, close your eyes and just breathe. Exhale out all your stale air; then inhale deeply through your nose, filling up your belly and rib cage. Hold it at the top, then open your mouth and let it go. Do this three to five times. Open your eyes. Feeling any better?

Happy Holidays, Career Contessa readers. May yours be stress-free and bright!

This article first appeared in Career Contessa.