Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can be a time of joy and happiness as you relax around a brightly lit Christmas tree. You’ve bought perfect presents and toiled selflessly over homemade candies. You can’t wait to drive six hours to Ames to enjoy drinking egg nog and catching up with your beloved brother and his wonderful little angels, age 4 and 7.

If this isn’t your family, read on for ideas about dealing with seasonal stress with a spoonful of encouragement from Mary Poppins.

Let’s go fly a kite: schedule activities

Christmas-themed coloring books on a table
Bring coloring books and markers to your next family dinner to keep kids (and adults) occupied.

You may not like spending time with your relatives. Whether due to differing political beliefs or child-rearing practices, it can be hard to stay calm around people who have known you the longest – and know how to push your buttons. Char Berquist, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution, offers some tips on keeping the peace by adjusting expectations and scheduling activities for kids.

The job’s a game: managing stress

students pet a puppy to relieve stress during finals week
Spending time with a furry friend can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

In addition to family dynamics, buying gifts and traveling can contribute to holiday tension. While it’s common to feel frazzled during this time, some know how to handle pressure better than others. Rhonda Lesley, director of the Counseling Center, explains why how you think about stress influences how you react to it:

“Some students have very full lives, but they are able to manage pressures well, partly because they choose to think optimistic/hopeful thoughts about their situation:

‘I have so many demands, and they will be winding down soon…I’m so busy and don’t feel I can keep up, but I love everything I’m involved in and I will somehow get it all done…I will make it…I know how to cope well…’  A different student with the same situation might think in more distorted ways:  ‘I have so many demands, and they’re going to ruin me…I’m so busy, and there’s no way out of this…I can’t do this…I’ll never be able to cope…”

Lesley also says that those who think optimistically will likely follow through on using good coping skills, while those who feel defeated by stress may respond negatively or even give up. She recommends healthy approaches like walks, time with friends, exercising, and intentional relaxation methods like deep breathing. Spending time with pets can also be soothing. The Counseling Center website includes links to additional helpful resources for anxiety and stress management.

Practically perfect in every way: reduce social media usage

students build snowman
Instead of scrolling status updates, use social media to make plans to get together with friends.

Social media can be another source of anxiety during the holidays. We want to check in with friends and see pictures of their kids, but idealized images of so-called perfect lives can contribute to negative feelings about ourselves. Checking social media too often can even contribute to feelings of depression. The most common effect could be the fear of missing out, or FOMO. Combat those feelings by using social media to schedule fun with friends. Besides, if your high school teammate’s life looks a little too much like a sappy diamond engagement ring ad, consider this.

Just a spoonful of sugar: eat healthily for better energy

Try layering tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil for an easy and delicious appetizer.

Diet can also affect stress management, and it can be hard to eat well when surrounded by piles of fudge and sugar cookies. While indulging is fun, a poor diet can cause lethargy at a time when you need stable blood sugar levels and lots of energy. Still, you know you shouldn’t live on peanut brittle for three days, but what to do when it’s right in front of you?

We reached out to Natalie Allen, dietetics instructor in the Biomedical Sciences Department, for help. She offered these tips for maintaining weight over the holidays, and a healthy recipe to get started:

  • Don’t skip meals and “save up” for the evening party. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and lunch, and you’ll be less likely to binge on unhealthy party foods that evening.
  • Bring a healthy treat to the party so you know you’ll have at least one choice to eat.
  • Healthy, fun treats for a holiday party include: fruit kebabs (green grapes and red strawberries are festive at the holidays), veggie tray, hummus and pretzel thins, or black bean salsa and baked tortilla chips.
  • Drink water during the day. It’s easy to neglect healthy drinks when it’s not as hot outside, but water (try fruit flavored) is essential to good health.
  • Make it your goal to maintain, not lose weight, over the holidays. Be realistic -treats abound – and allow yourself a few splurges.
  • Track your steps. We tend to be more sedentary in the winter. By tracking your steps, you’ll be more likely to move and burn calories.
  • Watch alcoholic drinks because the calories add up fast.
  • Watch portions. Enjoy your favorite snacks, treats, cookies and appetizers … but in moderation.

Quite satisfactory: a recipe to get started

closeup of popcorn
Photo credit: Natalie Allen

This crunchy snack is a crowd-pleaser as it’s both salty and sweet. Hands-down, this recipe is everyone’s favorite at my house, especially among kids.  I often bring  kettle corn to holiday parties and it’s a huge hit.

Homemade Kettle Corn

Recipe Source:  Adapted from

  • ¼ cup oil (canola works well)
  • ½ cup popcorn, unpopped
  • ¼ cup white sugar

Turn stovetop burner to medium/high heat.  Place heavy skillet on burner, add oil and 3 popcorn kernels.  Cover with lid and wait for those 3 kernels to pop.  Remove lid and add rest of popcorn, sprinkle evenly with sugar.  Put lid back on skillet.  Wearing an oven mitt, lift and shake the skillet occasionally over the next 2-3 minutes, to prevent the popcorn from burning.  Popcorn is done when popping slows, so time will vary.  Remove from heat and sprinkle with salt, as desired.

Makes approximately 8 cups popped kettle corn

Nutrition info per serving (1 cup):  85 calories, 7 grams fat

“The more you laugh
The more you fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more we’re a merrier we”

–  Mary Poppins

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One Response to Holiday Survival Guide

  1. Heather Blades says:

    Great tips for a wonderful holiday!