How Women Can Reduce Holiday Stress and Burnout

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Adrenal, Anxiety, Depression, Mood, Balancing Your Hormones, Sleep, Stress Reduction Leave a Comment

Time with family, holiday lights, special food, and fun drinks are some of the many things we love about the holidays. But let's be honest: The holidays can be more than stressful. The pressure to make everything “perfect,” plus extra get-togethers, travel, and gift-giving, can all add up.

For women, who tend to do it all, the holidays can be a recipe for burnout. So is it even possible to relax and enjoy the holiday season?

Yes, but it takes a little bit of prep work. Here's what you need to know about keeping yourself sane during the holidays.

I’m going to give you quick tips along the way, but be sure not to miss the hormone tips I have for you too keep PMS in check, periods flowing on time, and the endless anxiety of to-do lists keeping you up at night.

Why the Holiday Season Is Stressful, Particularly for Women

Women are usually (and I know this can be a generalization) the ones who hold everything together. We're the ones who plan the events, make the food, buy the gifts, and wrap everything up perfectly. We're also usually the ones who take care of everyone else, making sure everyone is happy and comfortable.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this can quickly lead to stress and burnout. You have a lot on your plate.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the holidays from family coordinated Halloween costumes to watching my kids hang ornaments on the tree with their grandparents and excitement of Christmas morning. But it is also a time I see many patients feel that self care is impossible and in truth, the stress that accompanies the holiday season is why January to March can be some of the worst periods, PMS, PMDD, and anxiety ever.

So while we can acknowledge, and even relish, the excitement and joy of the season, there’s also some other aspects we need to normalize talking about. 

Increased Family Responsibilities

Have kids? The pressure’s on to make sure they have the most magical, memorable holiday ever. 

Okay, I'm being a little dramatic, but the expectations (often self-induced) to ensure our kids have the best holidays can be intense. We want to create happy memories, but sometimes that can turn into extra demand on our time and energy.

If you're a planner, you also probably take on much of the event planning for holiday gatherings. This includes everything from planning the menu, shopping, cooking the food to cleaning or decorating the house.

And if you have out-of-town family visiting, you might also be responsible for their comfort and needs while they're staying with you. Or you make all the travel arrangements for your family to visit relatives.

Essentially this means you take care of everyone else, which can leave no time to take care of yourself.

Delegate and Task Share

Friend, I know you can do it all yourself and do it so well, but do you have to do it all? If there are even a few things you can delegate to others then do it. You can even set up automated emails to remind them if you’re someone who needs to know where the task is at. 

Task sharing is the concept that you divide the tasks it takes to run a home and all the events that take place in it. The people in your home are a community and as an active member of your community, it’s important that they contribute to the good of the household.

Can someone be assigned to pick up plates after dinner and get them into the dishwasher? Is there a grocery list that can be passed off for someone else to get those last minute items? The key is to try to delegate the most daunting and joy-sucking tasks for you so that you can pour that energy into the things that fill you up and ensure you have the energy to keep going.

Increased Psychological Stress

The emotional side of the holidays can also be tough. Yes, there can be so much joy and sweetness, but there can also be a lot of sadness. 

The holidays can be tough if you've lost a loved one. Even if it's been a few years, the holidays can still bring up grief.

For some people, the holidays are a reminder of how things “should” be. Maybe you've had a hard time becoming pregnant or recently went through a divorce. Maybe you're struggling with your mental health. This is a time of year when all of these things feel extra magnified.

Holidays can also bring up feelings about family that you may not have to deal with the rest of the year. If you have a difficult relationship with your family, being around them for extended periods can be challenging.

All of these things, on top of the pressure to make magic, can lead to increased psychological stress during the holidays.

Begin Mental Health Support Early

Look, I shouldn’t have so many patient stories of mother-in-laws who amplify stress, chip away at self esteem, and are just downright nast, but I do. In fact, family tensions, drama, and interactions can be a serious trigger. I want you to know they don’t have to happen—like seriously, you’re an adult who doesn’t have to subject yourself to the company of someone who doesn’t appreciate you. 

But that all may be easier said than done. 

There’s no shame in getting mental health support and a counselor or therapist can also give you strategies to navigate difficult personalities. But aside from that, the holidays can trigger emotions we thought were long behind us. Getting support before you need it can help you start off from a better place and have someone you can talk to when things get tough.

Work-Life Balance Challenges

Holiday cocktail party? No problem. Extra projects or working overtime just so you can take one or two additional days off? You got this.

But trying to maintain a work-life balance during the holidays can be really tough. Even if you aren’t the person working in your house, you may feel the strain of the partner who is.

When you are the working partner, you're expected to show up at work fully functioning and not let your personal life affect your job performance. But you're also expected to show up at home and be fully present there too. 

And if you don't have kids, maybe you feel like you need to take on even more at work so you can have time off. Or maybe you feel guilty taking time off when other people are working. It can often feel like a lose-lose situation.

Burnout Symptoms in Women

What does burnout feel like? For women, it can manifest in a few different ways:

  • You're exhausted all the time
  • You have trouble sleeping
  • You've got mood swings or feel irritable and easily annoyed
  • You're skipping meals or eating poorly
  • Your relationships are suffering
  • You're having trouble concentrating
  • You feel like you're never doing enough
  • You're sick a lot
  • You feel achy or dizzy

Of course, these symptoms can indicate other things, too, and you should check in with your provider if you're concerned. Still, if you're experiencing several of them, it might be time to take a step back and reassess your situation. 

Managing Holiday Stress

When you're burnt out, everything feels harder. Even simple tasks can feel insurmountable. But having a supportive plan in place can help you avoid burnout and get through the holidays with your sanity intact.

What does this mean? It means you make sure fundamental pillars of health are in place so you can better deal with stress. This includes things like sleep, nutrition, relationships, and movement. 

It also means being honest with yourself about what you can handle. If you're already stretched thin, commit to saying “no” to things that aren't essential. This includes things like holiday parties, extra work projects, and anything else that isn't absolutely necessary. 

And finally, it means giving yourself grace. The holidays are a tough time for everyone. Cut yourself some slack and know that it's okay if things aren't perfect.

Let's look at specific steps you can take to manage stress and burnout during the holidays.

Lowering Stress Hormones Naturally

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

First up—we can't talk about burnout without addressing HPA axis dysregulation or what many call adrenal fatigue. HPA axis dysregulation is a condition that occurs when your brain and adrenal glands (which produce hormones like cortisol) communication doesn’t match the body’s needs. This often comes after a period of prolonged stress.  

Your adrenals secrete cortisol, which help you respond to stressful event. Fantastic for short stressful or dangerous situations, but not so good when the stress lasts and lasts and lasts.

Symptoms of burnout, like feeling tired but still unable to sleep (what we call “wired but tired”) or suddenly wide awake at 3 am, are usually linked to stress hormones and HPA axis dysregulation.

What are Stress Hormones?

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone people think about, but it's not the only one. 

Adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is also released in response to acute stressors. It's what gives you the “fight or flight” response. Norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) is released in response to both acute and chronic stressors. It helps to regulate cortisol levels and has an inhibitory effect on immune function. 

When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it causes several changes in the body. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing quickens, and blood sugar levels rise. This is all part of the body's natural stress response and is necessary when we're facing a real threat. 

Another hormone released by the adrenals is aldosterone. Aldosterone's job is to help regulate electrolyte balance by holding onto sodium and removing potassium. Levels of aldosterone are impacted by chronic stress, throwing off electrolyte balance.

The problem arises when this response is constantly activated. When stress becomes chronic, it can lead to adrenal fatigue and all the associated symptoms of burnout. 

Lowering Stress Hormones Naturally

In a perfect world, life would be low-stress. But that's not reality. Life is unpredictable, and there will always be things beyond our control. The key is to find ways to manage stress, so it doesn't take a toll on our health. 

There are a few things you can do to help lower stress hormones naturally, and many take a consistent approach to really make lasting changes. But it's worth it for your health and well-being (and so you can actually enjoy the holidays with your family or friends).

  • Movement: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and it can help to improve sleep, increase energy levels, and boost mood. But too much exercise can actually be stressful on the body, so it's important to find a balance that works for you. Our guide on how to exercise with your cycle is a helpful resource for this.
  • Practice gratitude: Did you know gratitude has an incredible impact on our stress and hormone balance? It lowers stress hormones and boosts neurotransmitters that help us sleep and feel calm. Try to think about three things you're grateful for as soon as you wake up in the morning. It can become a positive, mind-clearing start to your day.
  • Try breathing exercises: If the idea of meditation is intimidating, take a step back and consider adding breathing exercises to your daily routine. This simple practice calms the nervous system and brings cortisol levels down quickly. 
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for stress management. Studies show that stress hormones quickly rise after a poor night's sleep. Stay tuned for more tips on sleep below. 
  • Cultivate relationships: Strong social connections have been linked with lower stress levels. Call your best friend, join a book club or schedule weekly meet-ups with people who make you feel good.

How to Get Better Sleep

I want to specifically address sleep because just telling you to sleep more isn't helpful if you're struggling. 

One of the most important aspects of optimizing adrenal function that I see most patients and doctors miss is focusing on restoring them at night. In the evening, as melatonin rises, cortisol levels decline. This is the key time of day to give them support so they can recover and activate your cortisol curve the next day. 

There are a few things you can do to try to improve your sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Create a bedtime routine to help you wind down before sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Exercise during the day, but not right before bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Limit screen time before bed.

Supplements containing sleep-supportive botanicals or nutrients can also be used to help calm the nervous system and promote better sleep. Some of my favorites include L-theanine, a calming amino acid, magnesium, and herbs like passionflower, lemon balm, and chamomile. 

Ashwagandha, a gentle adaptogenic herb, is another excellent option for reducing stress hormones naturally (I'll talk more about supplements for adrenal support later in the article).

Need sleep support? I got you. I created Adrenal Calm, a supplement to support stress hormone balance and better sleep. It's a blend of nervine herbs and nutrients that help to soothe the nervous system, promote relaxation, and improve sleep quality.

Adrenal Support Supplements

Maintaining Healthy Adrenal Function

In addition to all of the above tips to lower stress hormones, there are also specific things you can do daily to support adrenal function and help prevent burnout during the holidays and beyond.

Nutrition is a big piece of adrenal health. What you eat and even when you eat can significantly impact how your adrenals respond to stress. A nutrient-dense diet filled with leafy greens, protein, fiber-rich carbs, and healthy fats contributes to healthy adrenal function and hormone balance.

Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables along with these foods can help meet your micronutrient needs too. Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals, and some of these are especially important for stress resilience and healthy adrenal function (and added stress can deplete them).

For example, vitamin C is needed for adrenal and stress hormones, so it can easily become depleted when stress levels are high. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. B vitamins are also essential—more on this in the next section.

Timing your meals also supports healthy blood sugar balance which is extra important for a healthy stress response. Cortisol increases your blood sugar, so eating for blood sugar becomes even more critical. It may feel like you just don't have the time, but try to avoid skipping meals and eating late at night. Skipped meals can lead to cravings with inevitable blood sugar crashes later. Not ideal when you're trying to manage stress levels.  

Adrenal Support Supplements

I've already mentioned some of my favorite comforting supplements for sleep support, but there are also specific supplements that help to nourish the adrenals and support stress hormone balance.

  • Magnesium. As I said earlier, magnesium is an anti-stress mineral. Your body needs more during times of stress, and since many people don't get enough in their diet to meet the increased demands, supplements can help.
  • Licorice root and ginseng. These adaptogens are best for those who need an energetic boost first thing in the morning. Plus, they can support healthy stress hormones.
  • Lemon balm and passion flower. Herbs can be a powerful ally for stress relief. Lemon balm and passionflower are two of my favorites for their calming effects on the nervous system.
  • Phosphatidylserine. Found in every cell of your body, phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that helps to support healthy adrenal function. Studies show it can combat stress and lower cortisol levels.
  • B vitamins are absolute besties of those little adrenal glands. In particular, vitamin B5 is needed for healthy adrenal gland function. But before you jump to one single B vitamin, keep in mind they all work together. And don’t forget that vitamin B6 is going to help you get your progesterone levels where they ought to be! This is why I recommend a B complex for complete hormone support. More details on this soon!

While all of these are beneficial, the idea of taking ten different supplements each day can be a little much. Adrenal Support includes many of the above nutrients and herbs in one convenient supplement. The Optimal Adrenal Kit combines Adrenal Support with Adrenal Calm and a B Complex for comprehensive support of your adrenals.


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Benefits of Vitamin B Complex for Adrenal Health

Your adrenals need B vitamins to function properly. B vitamins are major cofactors for adrenal hormone and neurotransmitter production. This means they help the adrenals to do their job more effectively. B vitamins are also involved in energy production, so they can be helpful for fatigue.

A B Complex contains all the B vitamins to provide comprehensive support. Vitamin B5 (or pantothenic acid) in particular is needed for a healthy stress response and more is used during times of stress. Vitamin B5 helps calm cortisol and regulate stress hormones, so the more stress you're under, the more you need.

Studies show that supplementing with a B complex can support a healthy stress response and help with mental health or other mood-related issues. If you've been feeling run down or stressed, a B complex may be just what you need to help get your energy and mood back on track.

Don't Let Stress Ruin Your Holiday Joy

There are so many things to love about the holidays, but dealing with stress isn't one of them. Use the tips and strategies in this article to help reduce your stress levels and enjoy all the season has to offer.

And if the holidays are something you'd rather skip entirely, that's okay too. Maybe this year, it's time to focus on caring for yourself and doing what brings you joy. After all, that's what the holidays are really about.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.