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Seven Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress

  • December 01, 2022

Looking ahead to holiday gatherings, events and activities may fill you with anticipation and excitement, along with a little angst. You may feel that build-up of anxiety as the holidays approach. According to a recent APA poll, nearly one in three Americans expects to be more stressed this holiday season than last year.

On top of the inevitable complexities and tensions of family relationships, you may be feeling the pressures of holiday shopping, gift and travel expenses, the stress of hosting gatherings or managing a packed calendar of holiday events. High, and sometimes unrealistic expectations for the holidays can add to the stress. Loneliness and grief can also be heightened during the holidays.

family holiday gathering

Here are some coping strategies to help you bolster your mental health during the holidays.

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness can be a valuable mental wellness tool. Mindfulness practices can be particularly helpful if you are traveling or dealing with an unusual schedule. If you’re new to mindfulness, there are many online resources and apps to help you; here’s a quick beginner’s guide to help you get started and more on mindfulness from the University of Minnesota, Center for Spirituality and Healing. You can search here for mindfulness apps.

Preventing Burnout — It’s OK to Say No

For many, the holiday season brings joy, but it can also bring more stress and some conflicting obligations. It is important to prioritize and simplify: prioritize what brings joy and emotional recharge (people or activities) and simplify when you can. It might be nice to make your grandmother's cookie recipe from scratch for every holiday, but if that's stressful for you, buy cookies at the store and celebrate. It’s okay to say no to situations that stress you out, whether it's attending a party with people who have mistreated you or missing a party in a week that's been too intense at work.

Take a break

Many families have that one member who can turn a pleasant conversation into a family feud. If you see things are starting to take a turn for the worse, try not to let it escalate. There is no shame in removing yourself from the situation. Get up and leave the room or step outside until everyone cools down.

Get Some Fresh Air and Sunlight

Even if you’re not a big winter sports enthusiast, getting outside and some fresh air and exposure to sunlight can help relax you and lift your mood. Many people struggle with some feelings of depression during the winter months with fewer hours of sunlight and more time spent indoors. Walking outside in the sun can be an effective centering and calming tool. Numerous studies have pointed to the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, including stress relief, better concentration, lower levels of inflammation and improved mental energy. Learn more about nature therapy.

If You’re in Therapy, Stay in Therapy

Although the holiday season may be overwhelmingly busy, try to keep any regularly scheduled therapy a priority. The holidays can bring up difficult emotions. Keeping scheduled therapy sessions helps ensure you have built-in time to explore anything that comes up. If you are going out of town and you typically meet in person, ask your therapist about a virtual meeting.

Managing mental illness is a challenge, and it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. While the struggle can feel isolating, remember that you are far from alone. Talk with supportive friends and family and seek help from a mental professional if you need to, maintain your self-care routines, and consider including mindfulness practices into your days as you navigate your way through the holidays.

Grief and Loss

During the holiday season, many people may have a more difficult time missing a loved one they have lost or simply experience increased grief or loss. This can be especially true for people having their first holiday season without a loved one. Instead of trying to avoid thinking about your loved one, psychiatrist Ludmila De Faria, M.D., suggests honoring and celebrating them by getting together with other family members and friends and treasuring their life stories, especially stories that highlight important aspects of their life and personality.

Financial stress

Holiday spending can easily leave people in debt, contributing to stress that may last well into the new year. This year’s inflation is only adding to the financial burden. Try to avoid overspending and focus on celebrating together and showing affection by being present, engaging, and supporting each other. Instead of one gift per person, consider a Secret Santa, instead of expensive gifts, consider homemade or handmade items, that may carry special meaning to those receiving them.

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