• Jackie Harvel

Coping with Holiday Stress


Ease the Holiday Stress with some simple reminders…



The Holiday season can be a time full of joy, fun, and making new memories with loved ones, but it can also be a very stressful time. For many, this time of year increases relational and financial strain, worrying about getting everything done, fears of gaining weight, and juggling daily work and life balance. One way to reduce holiday stress is to pace yourself.


All you can do is what you can do. Make lists of the things you would like to get done, and then make a list of those things you really can accomplish in the timeframe needed. The greatest way to find disappointment in the holiday season is to set unrealistic expectations. Writing things down takes the activity out of your brain and will reduce overthinking racing thoughts, and sleepless nights. Stress from the holidays usually revolves around 3 factors: money, family, and food/weight gain. These factors can be difficult in managing and can increase emotional dysregulation and unwanted behavioral responses.



Money Stressors:


We all struggle with the pressures and expectations of gift buying this holiday season. “Who do I buy for?”, “What should I get?”, and “How much can I afford without looking cheap?” are all questions we may ask ourselves. We want to pick out the perfect gift and may spend weeks thinking and stressing about it. This is unrealistic. There is no ‘perfect’ gift and the price of the item does not matter. Presents, décor, food, and more all seem to add up faster during the holidays, and it’s all not necessary.

  • Budget your spending before shopping and stick to it.

  • Make a list of whom you are buying gifts for and ask for ideas to reduce overthinking

  • Commit to bringing one dish, not 3 or 4.

  • Keep it simple. Don’t overexert yourself.



Family Stressors:


We all have somebody in the family that we may feel anxious about seeing, or we may feel triggered by painful memories from previous celebrations. Perhaps the holidays just don't feel ‘happy’. That is ok.


  • Acknowledge your feelings. Write down your thoughts. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. While the holiday season can be merry and festive, it's also a time of reflection and can sometimes start to feel dark and lonely.

  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events to increase support and belonging. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites, or virtual events.

  • If anxiety increases due to higher expectations or obligations to others, identify and set limits. Don’t overextend yourself in terms of events. Long before the family gatherings happen, decide on some limits and stick to them. Stay one or two nights at your parent's house instead of three or four. Plan to drop by the holiday party for a couple of hours instead of staying all night.

  • Be realistic about what you can do, and make clear requests.

  • The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

  • Focus on the positive. What do you remember from the holidays last year? Write it down and share them with the family this year to reflect on positive memories.

  • Maintain your routine. As much as possible, maintain your typical sleeping, eating, and exercise schedules.



Food/Weight Gain:


The holidays are a time for sweet treats and the temptations are higher. It is important to remind yourself that it is ok to enjoy some less-than-healthy snacks but in moderation.


  • When you eat stress-reducing foods, the effects last only about two to three hours. If you're up against chronic holiday stress, try eating several small meals or snacks throughout the day instead of a couple of big ones. Just be careful to keep your total intake of calories about the same.

  • Overindulging can increase feelings of guilt and add to weight gain. Try preparing healthy snacks that are ready to eat when the urge to snack strikes, thus limiting eating those less-than-healthy treats.

  • 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 (even if it’s just 15-20 minutes) over the next three weeks.

  • Stay active, but not too active. Give yourself the gift of peace. If you need some downtime to recharge, declare a “me-treat” and do something that relaxes you. Try yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature.


Stress management is achievable with some planning, setting limits and sticking to them, and identifying and giving yourself what you need. Create space for yourself to make those lists and identify what you can and can not do. Remember it is ok to not get everything done. Identify the parts of you that feel guilty for not being able to do everything and give that part some compassion. Reach out to natural and professional supports in times of need; to process emotions, problem-solve, and learn new and beneficial coping skills. Lastly, identify what the holiday time means to you; start new traditions; connect with others; discover new ways to fuel your mind and body. Keep the true spirit of the season and remind yourself what the holiday season means to you.

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