How to Cope With Holiday Stress
Six ways to reduce stress during the holidays.
The holidays don't have to be stressful.
The holiday season is supposed to be filled with hope, love and joy. But for many families, it can be marred by feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Before you hide under the covers until January, here are ways to handle holiday stress.
Let go of expectations
“Most of the stress and chaos of the holidays is due to this unrealistic expectation that things will be perfect.” says Sarah Robins, a clinical social worker in Wilmington, DE. “The reality is that no family is perfect and that all families have difficulties.” Rather than think about what has gone wrong or what you can’t afford, focus instead on gratitude, compassion and giving back to the community, she suggests.
Set conflicts aside
Families that come together over the holidays can often bring unresolved issues to the surface, says Dr. Jacqueline Hudak, clinical director at the Center for Couples and Adult Families at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who tells her clients to set aside those conflicts and focus on simply being together.
“You’re not going to sit around the dinner table and resolve your family’s issues, that’s not the time to do it,” she says. “Even if that means you keep the visit short or you go in the morning when there isn’t alcohol served.”
Have strategies in place
“It is rare that families will get together for an extended time and not have some arguments or conflict,” Robins says. “Plan how you want to manage the conflict.”
Talk with your partner about the topics that could lead to tension and work out some strategies together.
“Have a friend you can call. Step outside for some fresh air or go for a walk,” Hudak suggests.
For those struggling with addiction or other difficulties that could trigger conflict, Robins says to put your support network on notice.
“Reach out to your supports ahead of time — whether that be AA, NA, friends, co-workers, family members — and remind them how difficult the holidays are for you,” she says. “Notice when you start to struggle and need to ask for additional support.”
It’s OK to say ‘no’
Christine DiPilla, a mom of four in Doylestown PA, says she scaled back saying “yes” to everything.
“I gave myself permission to opt out of anything that feels more like an obligation than something that brings me joy. And I told myself that I don’t have to be at all the places and buy all the things for everyone,” DiPilla says. “Also, I’ve scaled back on gift giving for our four kids.
“Between us and their grandparents, they often got so much that they never really played with anything. We have been moving more towards experiences rather than things and instead get one ‘big’ family gift.”
Madeleine DiLeonardo D’Amato, a psychotherapist in Collingswood NJ, says you need to seek balance when there are so many demands for your time during December.
“Saying no to things is a great way to do that,” DiLeonardo D’Amato explains. “If you’re in a good place mentally and emotionally, you’ll be able to enjoy quality time with friends and family.”
With endless to-do lists, it’s easy to forget to slow down.
“Remind yourself that it is okay if everything does not get done,” says Robins. “This is an overwhelming time for everyone and the most important thing is that you take breaks when you need them.”
Schedule downtime, urges DiLeonardo D’Amato.
“We put all of the holiday parties into our calendars with no problem, but is there any space specifically blocked off for downtime?” she asks. “There should be. Block off this time, be intentional about rest and rejuvenation, and treat it with the same prioritization as other aspects of the holidays.”
Make time to grieve a loved one
If someone close to you died recently, the holidays can be extra difficult. Hudak says a ritual helped her deal with her loss.
“It was very hard for me not to have my parents on Christmas Eve when my kids were young and so I used to take time for myself that day and go to the cemetery and have that time of grief,” Hudak says.
Robins says to incorporate the loved one into the holiday celebration in some way.
“Talk about the loss, feel the sadness, experience the grief. Find ways to focus on positive memories of the loved one and remind yourself that it’s okay and normal to experience the sadness and grief.”
Michele Haddon is a Doylestown, PA-based freelance writer.