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Coping with Holiday Stress



Written by: Paula McKee, MSW , LICSW
December 2, 2020

The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests—stress and depression. These can ruin the holidays and be detrimental to your health. This time of year can present a dizzying array of demands, including gift buying, baking, decorating, and cleaning to name just a few. There is an added layer this holiday season as we try to keep our families safe during the pandemic. With some practical tips, you can minimize stress and may even enjoy the holidays more than you thought you would. When stress is at a peak, it is hard to stop and regroup.  Develop a plan to prevent stress and depression, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support during the holidays is more important than ever!  

 Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you cannot be with loved ones this year, realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief.  It’s okay to take time to cry or express your feelings.  You cannot force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community through volunteering.  Volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Schedule Zoom or virtual chats with family and friends. Even if we cannot be with our support in person, we need their companionship. 
  3. Be realistic.  The holidays do not have to be perfect or just like last year. This year will look much different from last year. As our families grow and change, traditions and rituals often change as well. Change is truly the only thing we can count on. Choose a few traditions to hold onto, and be open to creating new ones. 
  4.  Set aside differences. Try to accept family members as they are, even if they do not live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until there is a more appropriate time for discussion. Try to be understanding if others get upset or distressed when plans go awry.  Chances are they are feeling the effects of pandemic and holiday stress as well.  
  5. Stick to a budget.  Before you shop for special food and gifts, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Stick to your budget! Happiness cannot be bought with an avalanche of gifts.  Try alternatives: donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts, or start a family gift exchange to reduce buying.
  6. Plan. Set aside specific days or times for baking, gift buying, or other activities.  Plan your menus and make a shopping list.  This can prevent a last minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients.  Ask family members to help with preparation and tasks that need to be done.
  7. Learn to say no.  Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.  Friends and colleagues will understand if you cannot participate in every project or activity. 
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits.  Do not let the holidays become a free-for-all.  Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack in mind before the holiday party starts so you do not go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity. 
  9.  Take a breather.  Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distraction, may refresh you enough to handle what you need to do. …take a walk at night and stargaze, listen to soothing music…  Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it.  Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores or responsibilities.  If these feelings last, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Take control of your holidays:  Do not let the holidays become something you dread.  Take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can come during the holidays (or a pandemic)!  Learn to recognize triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown.  With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.