27 Ways to Transform Your Holiday Stress into Holiness

By going deeper in our own faith during Advent, we can nurture a mindset of surrender, simplicity and holiness for Christmas.

‘Holiday Stress’
‘Holiday Stress’ (photo: Steve Collender / Shutterstock)

‘Tis the season for articles encouraging us to reduce the holiday stress. Will this be the year that we succeed at that? Success does not lie in avoiding all stress, however, but in reducing and transforming it in ways that lead to holiness.

It is often reflected upon that the first Christmas occurred in the most humble and simplest of ways — in a stable in Bethlehem, without human planning. Today, Christmas involves longer to-do lists than at any other time of the year. But as we contemplate the irony, let’s sit back and take a deeper look at the simplicity of the first Christmas. 

Yes, the conditions were simple, but the situation was complicated from a human perspective. We would all be stressed to lack accommodations with a baby coming and needing to sleep in a stable with animals. The key is that Mary and Joseph did not despair over their incredibly stressful situation. They surrendered to God. By going deeper in our own faith during Advent, we can nurture a mindset of surrender, simplicity and holiness for Christmas. Here are some suggestions. 


The Starting Point

1. Prepare for a Mary Christmas by asking Our Blessed Mother with help preparing to welcome the Christ child as she did — with faith and surrender. 

2. Surrender it all. The Surrender Novena by Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970) offers great help. At the end of each daily prayer this comforting thought is repeated 10 times: O Jesus, I surrender myself to you; take care of everything.” Repeat it often this Advent.

3. Offer up the stressful moments by uniting them with the cross of Jesus as part of our walk with him. It takes the mundane and undesired and transforms them into powerful spiritual collateral.

4. Take a moment to identify ways to seek holiness during Advent, such as using an Advent wreath, prayer time, charity and adoration, and put those at the top of your to-do list. 


Preserve Mental and Spiritual Health

Tending to both mental and spiritual health is important for reducing stress, according to Dr. Bryon Herbel, a psychiatrist practicing in Bismarck, North Dakota, who incorporates Catholic principles and spirituality to treat adults with anxiety and depression. He shared ideas with the Register for a healthy and spiritual holiday.

5. Get professional help if you might be experiencing a biological vulnerability, such as seasonal depression caused by sensitivity to reduced sunlight during the winter, or restlessness and anxiety from an overactive thyroid gland. 

6. Consider lifestyle changes to improve physical health while also lowering the risk of anxiety and depression. Suggestions include regular aerobic exercise which can be just as effective as medication to treat moderate depression. He also recommends healthy fats, especially omega-3 oils, available in supplements or wild-caught salmon or sardines, and vitamin D3 and B12 supplements.

7. People with past episodes of trauma, neglect or family tension are at higher risk for depression or anxiety. Informal counseling with a trusted friend can be beneficial as can enrolling in a support group for specific issues such as grieving. Counseling with a clergyman or mental health professional may also be needed.

8. Rest. Get adequate sleep, enjoy leisure activities, and get together with friends for perhaps spiritual conversations. 

9. Pray daily. Studies have demonstrated that groups of people who pray daily and participate in group worship on weekends have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those who do not.

10. Focus on the love of our Creator in sending his Son to rescue fallen humanity. Whenever you see a manger scene, visualize yourself with our Lady and St, Joseph in the humble dwelling of the stable. Rather than stress with gift buying, attempt to mirror the self-donation of the Father’s gift of Jesus to his people.


Live the Christmas Spirit

Here are additional simple ways to help embrace the holiness of Christmas from Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith and Get to Heaven.

11. Joyfully greet people with “Merry Christmas!” Don’t wince when they say, “Happy Holidays.” It means “holy day.” Let your greeting be sincere.

12. Do not open gifts until you have prayed in thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus. 

13. Get coloring sheets about the real Christmas for children and maybe color some as an adult while listening to Christmas music.

14. Read Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke (alone or with others) on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

15. Teach children to give generously. Have them work to earn money to donate to the poor. 

16. Donate to charities. For instance, give a Box of Joy to a child overseas who would otherwise receive nothing.

17. Make a little homemade manger scene, or buy one. Add pieces of straw for every good deed so that Jesus will have a soft bed to lie on Christmas morning.

18. Hang a stocking for Jesus. Fill it with notes and prayer intentions for him during Advent.

19. Serve at a community Christmas dinner or invite someone without family in the area over for Christmas dinner.

20. Be a secret Santa for a struggling single parent.

21. If you are going to donate toys and clothing before Christmas, include some things you still like.

22. Give spiritual gifts with Mass enrollments or write a card explaining you will pray an hour of adoration for them. 

23. Write letters of appreciation to put in people’s stockings or Christmas cards.

24. Buy enough Nativity postage stamps to use throughout the year.

25. Take advantage of after-Christmas sales to afford more or better-quality seasonal items that can be given away this year or saved for next, such as warm pajamas, coats, hats, mittens and boots. Sometimes, schoolteachers will gladly give these items to students in need of warmer winter clothing.

26. Give books, crucifixes, bracelets, medals, pictures, statues or other gifts for children from Catholic books and gift stores.

27. Do you have teens or college students without much money to buy you a gift? Ask them to read an inspirational book over Christmas break that you would love them to read as their gift to you. 

All the items listed here are meant as easy suggestions during Advent, but if it has you feeling like you have even more to do now, just go back to the first four items: devotion to Mary, surrender to God, offering up difficulties and pursuing holiness. That is all we need. After all, those are the very things that went into that first Christmas.

Sunlight illuminates a tree in full bloom as New York City celebrates Earth Day at Governors Island on April 20, 2024 in New York City. Earth Day originally started in 1970 as a way to celebrate and raise awareness about environmental issues facing the planet.

5 Catholic Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day and in response to the Holy Father’s message urging the faithful to take action in protecting the environment, here are five ways Catholics can celebrate Earth Day.