18 Tips to Manage Holiday Stress Smoke-Free

Woman enjoying cup of tea with her eyes closed
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Quitting smoking can be tough enough having to manage withdrawal, deal with cravings, and the everyday rituals that remind you of smoking without also experiencing holiday-related stress. In fact, research indicates that the symptoms of withdrawal are associated with more stress, and holidays can exacerbate the stress related to quitting.

Whether it's the busyness end-of-year holiday season or simply Valentine's Day, holidays can bring with them emotions and situations that may raise your stress levels. At the same time, a holiday can also be a cause for celebration, which may come with triggers to smoke. Use these tips to help you manage holiday stress smoke-free.

Get Enough Rest

When you're tired and run down, cravings to smoke will seem stronger while you feel less able to manage them. Get enough sleep at night, and take a power nap during the day if you can. Not getting enough sleep can be a vicious cycle as it may cause you to feel even more stressed in the first place.

Some older research has also found that when someone is sleep deprived, they have elevated cortisol, also known as "the stress hormone." If you can, prioritize rest so you're not overloaded.

Reduce Caffeine Intake

It's common to reach for a cup of coffee when you need an energy boost, but too much caffeine can leave you feeling jittery and stressed. In fact, caffeine may even worsen your stress response. Avoid extra cups of coffee and other sources of caffeine to stay awake. It's not always possible, but when you can, rest if you're tired.

Drink Water

Not only may drinking water help reduce cravings, but it's also an essential ingredient in a healthy diet. Being dehydrated can bring on a slew of uncomfortable symptoms, such as fatigue and even feeling anxious.

Keep yourself well-hydrated and you'll feel better in general, which will, in turn, help you manage holiday stress more easily. Bonus: Drinking water can help with dry mouth, a symptom of nicotine withdrawal.

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

Enjoy holiday treats, but be sure to give your body the fuel it needs to function properly. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates will help keep you at your best, both physically and mentally.

Go for a Walk

Walking can reduce stress and improves circulation. It also releases endorphins, the "feel good" hormone. Plus, a 2012 meta-analysis and systematic review also concluded that exercise can help with nicotine cravings. So, when the urge to smoke strikes, head out for a quick walk around the block. You’ll come back refreshed and relaxed.

If the weather is bad, use the treadmill or take a walk at an indoor mall.


Here's a quick exercise you can use anytime, anywhere: Deep breathing. Breathwork is a quick way to reduce stress. Plus, there are a few reasons why deep breathing may be particularly helpful for people who are quitting smoking. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three and exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Repeat this for a few minutes, and the tension in your body will begin to fall away.

Schedule Time for Yourself

While you're running around taking care of holiday tasks, be sure to schedule a little time for yourself daily. Take a hot bath or spend a half-hour in a quiet corner with a good book (or both). Choose activities that replenish your energy and renew your spirit. Take these moments to avoid piling on the stress, and you'll find it easier to manage holiday stress without reaching for a cigarette.

Have a Cup of Tea

It only takes a few minutes with a cup of tea and honey to feel the stress of the day begin to slip away. Choose herbal teas rather than those with caffeine. You can even step away from whatever situation is causing you more stress and sip on your cup of tea. It's a quick and easy way to rejuvenate yourself.

Focus on Today

Particularly around the busy, end-of-year holiday season, you might feel the stress pile on because of everything you have to accomplish. Try keeping a daily list to help you organize tasks. Don't overwhelm yourself by looking at the whole picture. Keep things simple and in the present by prioritizing the tasks you have in front of you for the day. You'll be more efficient and less stressed.

The same goes for managing nicotine withdrawal. Address cravings as they come up and focus on today's successes.

Don't Strive for Perfection

We are often our own worst critics. You're working hard to quit smoking, so give yourself permission to loosen your expectations a little. In other words, don't try to do it all. Maybe there's a tradition you do for this holiday, such as preparing a certain dish or decorating your home a certain way—maybe this year you don't have to do it all or do it exactly the way you usually do. Think instead in terms of what is good enough rather than stressing over every detail.

Take a Mini Mental Vacation

Meditation is another great tool to help ease your stress. Close your eyes and create a place in your mind that you can visualize when you need to slow down and relax. Return to the same imaginary location every time so that it becomes familiar and comfortable. As you settle in, focus on your breathing, and slow it down gradually. Breathe deeply in and out for three to five minutes.


If you find yourself particularly overwhelmed because of a holiday coming up, enlist the help of others to complete holiday tasks. Involve family members and friends; they're usually happy to help if asked.

It's a good idea to tell the people closest to you that you're quitting smoking and offer information on what may make that difficult for you so that they can help you avoid these things. Tell them what sort of stressful situations may trigger you to want to smoke. They can not only alleviate some of the physical work around the holidays but also the mental stressors as well.

Minimize and Simplify

It's so easy to take on too much during the busy holiday season. Make a list of things you'd like to accomplish and prioritize them. Decide what things must be done, and what things could be let go if need be. Sometimes less is more.

Alleviate Financial Stress

Financial stress can be unavoidable—and not just around a holiday. If you're stressed about money, you're not alone. A 2020 American Psychological Association survey found that approximately 64% of Americans find that money is "a significant source of stress." However, by taking a more proactive approach, you may be able to alleviate some of the stress that comes with finances surrounding a holiday. Try making a holiday budget and sticking to it.

Remember Why You Quit Smoking

There are so many positive effects of quitting smoking, but it might be hard to remember them during a stressful situation when a craving hits. Don't lose sight of the bigger picture. The reasons you quit smoking are as valid today as they were the day you quit. Take five minutes and refresh your memory by reading your list of reasons.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you get the holiday blues, take steps to acknowledge and manage your feelings. Denial only makes holiday depression worse. What's more, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, practicing self-care and following other items on this list, such as getting enough sleep and keeping things simple, can also help you combat the blues around the holidays.

Call a Friend

Take a few minutes to connect with someone you care about. Your spirits will be lifted, and chances are you’ll lift theirs too. You may also want to be sure your friends and family are aware of the effects of nicotine withdrawal and how best to support you during your quit journey.

Count Your Blessings

Spend some time reflecting on all of the things in your life that you’re grateful for. It's a simple yet powerful way to pull out of a slump and renew yourself. Research indicates that gratitude can help alleviate stress as well. One 2018 study published in Psychology, Health, and Medicine found that feeling grateful improved health by way of decreasing feelings of stress and loneliness.

A Word From Verywell

Smoking cessation is a process of gradual release over time. The associations that have been built between smoking and the activities in your daily life must be changed, one by one. The only way to do that is by simply living life, day in and day out, smoke-free. Navigating the holidays minus the cigarettes is a necessary albeit challenging part of the journey.

While experiencing holidays for the first time smoke-free may feel uncomfortable or downright difficult at times, you're working to cement new habits in place. Keep your focus and meet the challenges that come along with confidence. You can do this, and you'll thank yourself when the holiday is behind you and you're still smoke-free.

13 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.
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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.