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7 Cheap Ways to Bust Holiday Stress

December 20, 2018

4 min read

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But for many of us, it’s also the most predictably stressful.

Along with the holiday cheer, there are traffic jams, crowded airports, flight delays, stormy weather, and emotional exhaustion. And let’s not forget the very American tendency of going into debt to afford holiday gifts.

It’s all part of the omnipresent social pressure to act like everything is just perfect.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Let’s look at some affordable ways to de-stress that don’t require a $1,500 investment in a spa vacation.

Take a bath break

Is there a bathtub in your hotel room, parents’ house, or cousins’ apartment? Announce that you’re commandeering it for an hour and wish to be completely undisturbed. Use waterproof earbuds to play relaxing music if the sound of family threatens to overwhelm your chill environment.

Bring a candle. Bring six candles. Bring a cool glass of water. Some folks swear by Epsom salts to relax tired muscles. Get some fresh mint leaves at the grocery store and toss those in the water. If relaxation and easy slumber are more your speed, use lavender essential oil or the leaves of the plant itself.

No need to be near a garden. I once took mint tea bags from the airplane and popped them into my flimsy motel tub. It did the trick.

Use a meditation app

I adore Headspace, the app co-founded by former monk and ex-circus performer Andy Puddicombe. I’ve been using it for nearly two years, and it has introduced me to practices that have truly changed my life for the better.

I still act impulsively at times, but mindfulness meditation has helped me learn the value of inserting a pause between desire and action. The app is currently marked down from $96 to $58 for a year’s subscription.

You can also subscribe at a monthly rate of $12.99, or buy a lifetime subscription at $399.  It’s also a good gift idea.

Listen to a history podcast

History podcasts remind us that our drama, whatever it may be, ain’t the end of the world. In fact, whatever we’re going through is likely nothing compared to what some folks have endured.

Try “Stuff You Missed In History Class,” one of my longtime personal favorites. The brilliant Karina Longworth hosts “You Must Remember This,” a fascinating podcast on the secret history of Hollywood. Or take a stroll through “The History of Rome,” an oldie but goodie (in more ways than one.)

Watch something soothingly ridiculous

Laughter can indeed be the best medicine at times. I watch the magnificent Comedy Central series “Broad City” whenever I need to lose myself in great writing, wonderful comedic timing, and insane situations. The fact that the show also has a beautiful, loving heart helps, too. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson and others help cure what ails me.

What’s your go-to laugh riot? Take a half-hour break. Hide in your car or the basement and watch a show or silly short video on your phone if you need to. Lie and say you’ve got to catch up on “work.” Then laugh your head off.

If anybody walks by, claim this is part of some important new initiative at your job. Refuse to explain further, citing top-secret work “stuff.”

Get the group therapy text going

Set up a group text among trusted pals to whom you can vent frustration over the holidays. Agree in advance that you may text each other during certain hours of the day (or perhaps any time of day or night). And remember to lock your phone from the prying eyes of random relatives.

Keep a diary

Revive the ancient art of handwriting! Call your diary a Secret Book Of Venting All My Feelings, or whatever you like. Keep it hidden and safe and pour out your rage into it whenever you need to. Carry a small notepad in your back pocket or purse. You can always throw it out (NOT in the home in which you’re staying) or tear it up later.

One simple exercise? Write a letter to the person who’s driving you the craziest. Never send it, obviously.


I don’t like to exercise for exercise’s sake. I do like to take a walk as an escape from unpleasant people, or simply to clear my head and refresh my spirit. Make a daily walk a practice during the holidays. Pick the warmest time of the day if that suits you. You’ll be glad for the solace.

Don’t forget to breathe

Sounds simple, right? But slowing your breathing is a surefire way to slow your heart rate and relax a little bit. While meditation is a sustained practice of focus, you can use breathwork for just a few seconds at a time in order to calm down.

I like to do this: Inhale for five even counts into my belly. Hold for seven even counts. Exhale for eight even counts. Take a pause and then repeat as necessary. Sometimes even two of these breath cycles can get me back in the correct frame of mind, distracting me from unpleasant or unhelpful thoughts and allowing me to better deal with the situation at hand.

Remember,  you don’t need to spend a lot of dough in order to relax. In fact, the answer to feeling more free and clear may, in fact, be free itself!

Be well and take good care, and best wishes for a happy holiday season and beyond!

By Sara Benincasa
Sara Benincasa is a screenwriter, recovering stand-up comedian and the author of "Real Artists Have Day Jobs"

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