How to Handle the Stress of Holiday Shopping Amid Supply Chain Disruptions

drawing of little girl looking up at empty store shelves

Verywell / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • Labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and higher prices may make holiday shopping more stressful this year.
  • Experts say you can reduce stress by making time for self-care and focusing on your personal wellbeing during the holidays.
  • Embracing non-materialistic holiday traditions, like gifts of service and festive experiences, can also ease some pressure this season.

Finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list is rarely easy. But this year has some additional challenges that may make holiday shopping even more stressful than usual. 

Surging rates of COVID-19 in some areas make in-person shopping a potential health risk. The price of goods has climbed a staggering 6.2% in the 12 months leading up to October 2021, putting pressure on shoppers’ budgets. Supply chain disruptions have led to product shortages and out-of-stock messages. Plus, stores may have longer lines and delays restocking products as they continue to face challenges hiring and retaining retail workers.

So how can you stay cool amid all the uncertainty? Here’s how to keep the holiday shopping stress to a minimum, according to mental health experts. 

Finding the Root of Your Stress

Getting to the root of what’s specifically causing you stress is the first step toward finding relief. 

“For example, if seeing empty shelves is stressful, shop online. If the stress is from being in stores that are crowded, go at late times or early times or shop online,” says Yasmine Saad, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and director of Madison Park Psychological Services. 

Yasmine Saad, PhD

if seeing empty shelves is stressful, shop online. If the stress is from being in stores that are crowded, go at late times or early times or shop online.

— Yasmine Saad, PhD

For many people, holiday shopping stress comes from the pressure to find the “perfect” present—a task that’s difficult any year, but may be especially challenging right now. Figuring out a back-up plan for the gifts you plan to buy can help you feel less stressed if you’re having trouble finding your first choice, says Maryanna Klatt, PhD, professor of clinical family and community medicine and director of integrative medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

“If your child’s first choice of gifts are unavailable in time, be honest with them. Plan smaller gifts or activities ahead of time so no one is disappointed,” she adds.

Not quite sure about where your stress is coming from? Consider journaling about your holiday shopping plans to see if you notice any themes or insights that can help you get to the source of the pressure.

Make Time for Self-Care

When you’re busy with shopping, baking, and celebrating, it can feel like there’s no time left for self-care. But making your wellbeing a priority can help reduce the effects of stress and keep you going throughout the holiday season.

“Self-care is crucial! Make a list of calming activities ahead of time that give you the much needed break you need among all the holiday chaos,” says Dr. Klatt.

Maryanna Klatt, PhD

Self-care is crucial! Make a list of calming activities ahead of time that give you the much needed break you need among all the holiday chaos.

— Maryanna Klatt, PhD

Practicing gratitude can be a particularly helpful strategy for reducing stress. According to UC Davis, practicing gratitude can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. What’s more, keeping a gratitude journal for two weeks has been shown to reduce perceived stress by 28%.

“Focus on what you are grateful for and engage your family in an exercise that encourages everyone to acknowledge what they are grateful for this holiday season. It will change everyone’s focus from scarcity to prosperity, despite the low inventory,” explains Dr. Saad.

Mindfulness exercises, such as meditation and body scans, can be another way to reduce the impact of stress from holiday shopping. It can also help improve your sleep, boost your attention, and decrease burnout—all of which can have a positive benefit on your stress levels.

Other ways to combat stress around the holidays include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting adequate rest
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol
  • Making time for the things you enjoy
  • Connecting with loved ones and community members
  • Seeking professional help from a therapist

Embrace Experiences Instead of Things

Given the higher prices, product shortages, and other challenges of the holidays this year, embracing non-materialistic holiday traditions could make for a festive season that’s less stressful and ultimately more meaningful.

“Non-materialistic holiday traditions will never be in short supply,” says Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “Loved ones will understand you love them, and that love will not be contingent on getting a material gift.”

Julian Lagoy, MD

Non-materialistic holiday traditions will never be in short supply. Loved ones will understand you love them, and that love will not be contingent on getting a material gift.

— Julian Lagoy, MD

If you do want to wrap up something special for loved ones, consider making the gifts, rather than buying them, adds Dr. Lagoy. (After all, research has proven that it’s the thought that counts!)

Dr. Saad recommends tapping into your personal strengths when coming up with a thoughtful gift you can’t buy at a store.

“Do you love knitting? Are you a transformational coach? A social media specialist? Offer your friend a knitting gift, a transformational one-on-one time, or a social media audit,” she says.

Finally, focusing on fun bonding experiences over the holidays can also help reduce the tension around gift-giving this year. Dr. Klatt recommends baking and sharing holiday recipes with the children in your family, or doing good deeds together. 

“Bond with your family by celebrating together, going out to visit Santa, or looking at holiday lights. Remind kids that Christmas is not just about gift-giving, but special time to spend together as a family,” she says.

What This Means For You

Holiday shopping is often tense, but pandemic-related challenges (like supply chain disruptions and labor shortages) may make this the most challenging gifting season yet. While it’s understandable to feel stressed out, experts say there are strategies that can ease some of this pressure.

Try to figure out what specifically is stressing you out (such as worries about shortages, or concerns about crowded stores), so you can find ways to avoid those stressors. Amid all the festivities, it can also be helpful to make time for self-care and mindfulness. Finally, consider focusing on non-materialistic holiday traditions (like baking a treasured family recipe) to minimize stress this season.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer prices increase 6.2 percent for the year ended October 2021.

  2. UC Davis Health. Gratitude Is Good Medicine.

  3. American Psychological Association. What are the benefits of mindfulness.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping with Stress.

By Joni Sweet
Joni Sweet is an experienced writer who specializes in health, wellness, travel, and finance.