10 Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

The holiday season can bring mixed emotions for many. For some, it’s their favorite time of year but for others, it brings feelings of sadness and loss. Here are 10 tips for coping with holiday stress this season:

1. Honor Your Feelings
The holidays often arrive with a chaotic set of demands: parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, and entertaining (to name a few). It is important to acknowledge your feelings amidst this hustle and bustle. It is okay to feel sadness and grief, and it’s okay to feel joyful. Whatever the emotion you experience, get curious about its function for you, and take a moment to sit with the feeling rather than avoid or distract from it. Perhaps you can take a second to jot down feelings and thoughts in your journal or into a note on your phone. Rather than avoiding or distracting ourselves from intense emotions, this practice gives us the opportunity to acknowledge whatever is coming up and to discharge overwhelming emotional energy into a safe and healthy place.

2. Be Realistic
The holidays will not be perfect, and that is okay. Avoid putting unreasonable pressure on yourself to host the perfect holiday, to be happy around the clock, or to accept every invite. Know your limits when it comes to making plans and saying “yes” to big commitments so that you are not taking on more than can be managed during an already-busy time.

3. Take Care of Yourself
The dizzying array of demands during the holidays can leave us feeling exhausted, burnt out, and even resentful. Make a practical holiday self-care plan and stick to it no matter what.

Self-care can be whatever you need to take care of yourself moment to moment. Here are some ideas:

  • Sensory (breathe in fresh air, listen to music, take a warm shower, burn a scented candle, cuddle with a pet),
  • Pleasure (eat your favorite food, take your dog for a walk, do a holiday craft with a loved one, enjoy a hobby)
  • Mental/Mastery (clean out a junk drawer/closet, make a to-do list, do a word search or crossword puzzle)
  • Spiritual (pray, read poetry, list 5 things you are grateful for, meditate, go to a religious service)
  • Emotional (radically accept your feelings, write your feelings down, cry when you need to, laugh when you can, practice self-compassion)
  • Physical (stretch, go for a walk or run, try yoga, take a nap, go to bed at a regular time)
  • Social (call a friend, sit with a family member, ask for a hug)

4. Do Less, Be Present More
We often go overboard to please others and meet everyone’s needs but our own. Say “no” when asked to do more than you can. Make sure to leave time to spend with friends and family who value you. Mindfully paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally will reduce stress and empower you to prioritize these cherished moments.

5. Plan Ahead
Map out your holiday schedule before the season starts. Decide in advance what you’re willing to commit to or take on so you know exactly how much is manageable for each day. A structured routine infuses predictability into an often chaotic and unpredictable holiday season, which will help us feel more in control and at ease. Don’t forget to schedule in self-care and quality time with those who matter most!

6. Ask for Help
The holiday season tends to be a time of year during which we take on more than we can reasonably handle, and sometimes this leaves us feeling rather isolated. It is okay to ask for help. Reach out to neighbors, family or friends for support, a hug, or an extra set of hands when entertaining, shopping, cooking – you name it! If you’re feeling left out, then seek out opportunities to join in the holiday fun; there are countless places to volunteer, enjoy holiday music and sights, and to help others.

7. Practice Acceptance
If some of your friends or family have a history of pushing your buttons or acting out around the holidays, chances are their behavior won’t be very different this season. We can practice radical acceptance in these instances, which helps us let go of what isn’t possible. When we radically accept a difficult or painful reality, our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and mood shift to make room for fully experiencing the present reality. This shift creates an opportunity and ability for change. If family or friends are behaving in a way that is unsafe or inappropriate, set boundaries and expectations around their behavior in your home or around your family.

8. Keep in Touch with You
When spending time with family and old friends, you may notice your behaviors regress to who you were rather than remaining who have become. Even if you feel pressured to do so, remember it is not required of you to play the same role in the present that you did in the past. If you find yourself reverting to old patterns of behavior, try taking a break in another room to give yourself space to reconnect with who you are now. If there is someone around who knows who you are today, include them in conversations with others to help anchor you in the present moment.

9. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has; it recognizes value apart from its material worth. The holidays create an opportunity to pause and notice all there is to be grateful for. If you would like to practice cultivating gratitude, try writing thank you notes to others, or jot down down three good things that have gone well for you today and identify the cause.

10. Reach out for professional help if needed
The jolly and busy energy that surrounds us during the holiday season can sometimes leave us feeling depressed, withdrawn, and anxious. If you notice that you are feeling persistently sad or anxious, irritable or hopeless, unable to take care of day-to-day tasks, be encouraged to reach out to a mental health professional for support.