Every holiday season, my usual daily routines seem to fall by the wayside. November and December become rogue months, and it’s mostly just 60+ days of trying to survive the highs and lows of dinner parties, holiday parties, parties just because. The past few years have, of course, felt even more overwhelming. I find myself wondering how to hold both joy and sorrow in the same hand. Is it even appropriate to celebrate when so many others are experiencing pain? Add these questions to navigating holiday travels (will I get stuck in an airport?), then top it off with post-election conversations. It’s, well, a lot. 

Holiday stress isn’t a new concept, of course; many of us are more than accustomed to feeling overwhelmed by this time of the year. Some of us eat and drink to cope (me); others bury ourselves in last-minute work projects (also me). But what if we didn’t forgo the practices we know for certain ground us throughout the rest of the year? What if, instead, we prioritized them amidst stressful seasons—and specifically during the holidays? Leaning into those routines that offer us peace when life is a bit slower might actually help us navigate overwhelming seasons too.

Take it from me, a perpetually stressed person. Routines can offer relief. Here’s how.

What if we didn’t forgo the practices we know ground us? What if, instead, we prioritized them amidst stressful seasons?

Be Greedy About Your Morning Routine

In college, I liked to start my day by waking up early to read and journal before class. I craved those dark hours when the dorm halls were quiet, and I could curl up on the community couch by myself. Having that habitual alone time was crucial for my mental health and productivity—especially during stressful weeks. 

Morning time reminds me to set intentions and healthy expectations for the day.

As I’ve gotten older, this hasn’t changed. Whether I’m writing, meditating, or simply sitting in the quiet with a cup of coffee, having a morning routine positively impacts the rest of my day and helps alleviate stress. This allocated time keeps me present and grounded. It also reminds me to set intentions and healthy expectations for the day. It’s even more crucial when stressful seasons are on the horizon (hello, holidays), as my introverted-self needs solitude to refuel.

Not all of us can afford to wake up early and take time to ourselves, but there is no one or right way to have a morning routine; these moments are for you and no one else. Even a moment of intentionality can serve us—may it be in the car, in the shower, or as you wait for the coffee to brew. You can read more about how to embrace these small moments in an essay from our Co-Founder on Mindful Morning Routines.

Listen to The Rhythms of Your Body & Meet Its Basic Needs

When I’m anxious, taking care of my body and meeting my physical needs can be a challenge. Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating a balanced diet, and staying hydrated (coffee and wine are diuretics, unfortunately) are practices I sweep aside. Ironically, research suggests dehydration can cause anxiety and even depression, so surviving on caffeine and alcohol (my “coping beverages” of choice) only perpetuates the problem.

Getting enough sleep and finding space for movement helps. So do hydration and consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and supplements. You may not have time to exercise, but perhaps you can stretch for five minutes or practice mindful breathing. However we’re able to create space for our bodies this season, may we listen to and prioritize those needs above our to-do list. 

You may not have time to exercise, but perhaps you can stretch for five minutes and practice mindful breathing.

Create a Roadmap

One of the ways I keep myself calm and grounded amidst stress is by creating a roadmap. I ask myself questions like, How are you feeling? What do you need? Which daily habits are causing more stress? And then I journal my answers. This practice shows me how and where I’m spending my energy and time. It also reveals the gaps, so I can adjust my routines and habits accordingly.

Having a roadmap in times of stress helps us manage expectations. We can find or create space in our schedule for the most urgent tasks. We can also recognize when scheduling time for a nap or confronting our feelings is the most pressing matter.

When we write things down, we’re more likely to get them done.

Moreover, writing down small goals and commitments (holiday parties, wrapping, end-of-year recitals) also holds us accountable. It’s the magic of manifesting—when we write things down, we’re more likely to get them done. It also relieves the task from our brain, so we’re not worrying about it all day. This can help us maintain our stress levels.

Give Yourself the Gift of ‘Me’ Time

Like physical health, emotional health can get put on the back-burner during stressful seasons. I’ve found that taking 10 or so deep breaths and checking in with my mind and body throughout the day helps alleviate any anxiety I’m holding in my body. As simple as it sounds, these intentional and centering moments ground me. I then feel much more equipped to be productive and stick with my routine throughout the day. Setting aside even the smallest amount of time for self-care ensures we don’t exhaust ourselves and forgo our routine altogether. 

Allocating even the smallest amount of time for self-care ensures we don’t exhaust ourselves.

Scheduling longer self-care time can be helpful as well. I often derail when I push myself beyond my emotional and physical limits, so I’ve learned to value self-care above all else. As the old saying goes, we can only care for others after we’ve first cared for ourselves. 

Of course, time for self-care is a luxury not afforded to everyone. But one way we can give back to others is by noticing those who can’t take time or space for this sort of practice and offering to help by taking tasks from their to-do list. Consider dropping off groceries for a friend or sending your neighbors with kids a delivery meal so they can take a night off from cooking. 

Embrace the Unpredictable

Lastly, remember that life is unpredictable. Our days will not always go as planned. Routines are guidelines; they are not rules for perfection. Let us be kind to ourselves and gracious with others—in this season and in future ones. May we find peace in the present moment.


Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.