It’s supposed to be the season to be jolly — but more often than not, we’re too stressed out to enjoy it. Lots of parents are struggling emotionally during the holidays, according to a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll from the University of Michigan.

The poll found that one in five moms and dads say they’re often too stressed out and anxious to take part in the joyful yuletide spirit. Even worse, they worry that the tension is affecting their kids’ holiday — the last thing they want.

Most parents want to give their children memories to treasure for years to come, but the work to make that vision come true is stressful.

The survey was administered in October 2021 to a randomly selected national sample of over 2000 parents nationally. Each had at least one child age 1-18 years living in their household.

Here’s what the Mott Poll revealed:

  • A quarter of all parents admit they tend to set overly idealistic holiday expectations.
  • Twice as many mothers are stressed by preparations as fathers.
  • Nearly a third of parents say stress comes from extra shopping and holiday tasks, as well as managing household finances.
  • Anxiety about cooking special holiday meals and planning for family gatherings affected more than 20 percent of the respondents.
  • Fourteen percent say they’re stressed out by family members’ criticism of holiday plans.

That’s not a whole lot of holiday cheer, but reactions such as these are understandable. “People are surrounded by images depicting the holidays as a time of peace, love and joy. Many parents want to give their children those perfect magical memories to treasure for years to come,” explains the poll’s co-director, Sarah Clark. “But all of the behind the scenes work to make that vision come true could have the opposite effect for some families.”

The good news? There are proven ways you can reduce holiday stress and stay healthy. Here are some tips from the American Heart Association:

  • Keep up healthy habits. Make a pact with yourself during the holidays. For example, decide that you’ll move more and do something active every day over the next three weeks.
  • Beware of seasonal sweets. Try preparing healthy snacks that are ready to eat when the urge to snack strikes. Choosing fruits instead of sweets you can lower your stress level.
  • Stay active. Instead of beating yourself up about missing a workout, sprinkle some healthy activities into your daily routine. And keep the family moving. When the kids are home from school, squeeze in some active chores and trips to the park.
  • Give yourself the gift of peace. If you need some down time to recharge, declare a “me-treat” and do something that relaxes you. Try yoga, meditation or spending time in nature.