Managing Holiday Stress: Eustressed or Distressed - It’s All In Your Perception

Managing Holiday Stress: Eustressed or Distressed - It’s All In Your Perception

The holiday season is upon us, and along with the cheerful decorations and festive gatherings, there’s a palpable undercurrent of stress in the air. Stress is a part of everyday life. No one is immune. You can't go around it, you must go through it. However, how you perceive and handle this stress can make all the difference in your experience. Are you eustressed or distressed? Your perception is your reality.

Stress impacts the mind and the body. While you might have heard of distress as the most commonly discussed type of stress, there’s another dimension to stress that is equally important: eustress. Eustress is a positive cognitive response to stress that can be healthy and fulfilling, leading to a sense of achievement and positive feelings. On the other hand, distress is characterized by worry and mental tension, with negative implications.

Want to know the truth? The body itself cannot physically discern between distress and eustress; it’s all in the mind.  Eustress is not defined by the type of stressor itself but rather by how we perceive those stressors. Put simply, it hinges on whether we see a stressor as a negative threat or a positive challenge. Interestingly, the very same stressor may trigger both eustress and distress and while eustress can be beneficial, there are limits to its utility. Experiencing positive stressors in excessive duration or intensity can eventually lead to individual distress.


So then, what are you thinking as we enter this holiday season? It’s the perfect time to reflect on how you are perceiving and managing holiday stress! Whether you personally celebrate the holidays or not, this time of year impacts everyone. From the increased traffic on the street and in stores, to the tight schedules, looming deadlines, additional social interactions, and gift-giving, the aroma of stress permeates the air,  mingling with the scents of cinnamon and peppermint. 

These pro tips should keep you merry and bright. Here are some ways to stay cool this season:

  1. Finish strong by preparing and planning for the holidays. 

  2. Keep your budget in check to avoid emotional spending. Consider having experiences instead of giving material items.

  3. Put away credit cards and opt for cash or debit purchases.

  4. Stay level-headed and clear, do not believe the hype. Do not buy your joy.

  5. Create a mixture of high and low-pace moments to enjoy the fullness of the season.

But, that’s not all! Because stress and emotions have an immediate response in the body, I will also share some in-the-moment tools to help you quickly reduce stress or derail the stress response and maintain your jolly well into the new year.

  1. Physiological Sigh: Do the physiological sigh 3 to 5 times.  Take a short, nostril inhale followed by a vigorous exhale through the mouth. This simple technique helps reset the parasympathetic nervous system.

  1. Aroma Therapy: Smell something to distract the repetitive fixed thoughts or negative emotions.  Your olfactory system directly affects the part of your brain that regulates emotion that’s why smells can trigger memories and elicit feelings — both negative and positive. Aromatherapy can help in reducing stress and anxiety and engage a general state of calm.  

  1. Tapping: Scientific studies show that tapping allows the brain and body to release stress and negative emotions, as well as calm and regulate the central nervous system, according to Capanna-Hodge. While researchers aren’t sure exactly how tapping moderates stress, they have observed a decrease in cortisol (often referred to as the “stress hormone”), showing that a physiological change is occurring. (from Forbes Health, April 2023)

Once you have gotten your body to stop responding to the physical symptoms of stress, let's reframe those thoughts and shift into eustress!


Here’s an example! The thought of picking out gifts causes distress because you question your style and struggle to identify something they would like at your price point. In the past, from October to December, you carry the stress of what to buy.

What you can do? Reframe your thoughts on gift-giving! Allocate a budget for each person and take a small portion of it to buy an ornament or trinket that reflects their character to you.  Then, give the rest in a money gift card. By shifting your strategy, you can find something you appreciate about each person and give a thoughtful present to all.

In conclusion, it’s essential that we adopt a proactive approach to managing holiday stress and work our way in shifting our distress to eustress. But also remember, that it’s okay if everything doesn’t go as planned. Learn to know what matters amidst the hustle and bustle and try to find moments of peace, warmth, and connection. 
Here’s to a season filled with joy, understanding, and serenity! And may the in-betweens allow you to savor the little joys that make this time of the year special!

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