How To Manage Stress During The Holidays
Updated: Apr 25
You’re not alone if you find the holidays to be hard to get through! In 2014, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reported 64% of people with mental illness feel the holidays make their condition worse, and in 2021 NAMI reported 3 out of 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays. Whether you're experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, below are 10 helpful tips and coping skills to manage stress during the holidays.
10 Helpful Tips and Coping Skills to Manage Stress During The Holidays
1. Set Expectations Around Gift Giving
As rewarding and exciting gift giving is, it can create internal anxiety and tension. Communicate with friends and family around gift giving expectations. Remember, the quality and thoughtfulness of the gift is what matters most and not the amount of money spent.
Tip: Set a price limit or ask family and friends to do a secret santa or white elephant instead.
2. Cope Ahead For Stressful Situations
It is best to be proactive rather than reactive! You may be able to predict some potential stressful, depressing, and/or anxiety provoking situations. Having coping skills ready to reduce the intensity of your negative emotions and help you enter a clear mind will prevent you from acting inappropriately or impulsively.
Tip: Plan a list of coping skills that can help you cope with specific negative emotions and practice them to help reduce those negative emotions before and during the holidays.
3. Boundary Setting
Boundaries are in place not to hurt the people we care about, but to protect us! Toxic family members can ruin your holidays and trigger negative emotions. Communicate beforehand with family and/or friends regarding boundaries. This may include not celebrating the holidays with that family member and beginning new family traditions to remove holiday stressors.
Tip: When communicating with family or friends as to why you will not be spending the holidays with them, focus on “I statements” and avoid “you” as placing blame will lead to defensive behaviors and confrontation. In addition, if the person gets defensive, be a broken record and continue to repeat your reason over and over again. You do not owe anyone an explanation for how you choose to celebrate your holidays.
4. Grieve Loved Ones
Holidays often remind us of the people we love and care for that are no longer with us. It’s important to acknowledge and feel those feelings. Lean in to the positive memories you have with that person, and celebrate their life.
Tip: Dedicate some time before or during the holidays laughing at funny memories you had with them. Continue to engage in the traditions they created whether it’s cooking their recipes, music, etc.
5. Engage In Self-Care Prior To The Holidays
Taking care of yourself during the holiday season can reduce intense negative emotions. Lacking sleep and being tired can leave you vulnerable to stress.
Tip: Prioritize sleep, and find as little as 5 minutes a day to do something you find relaxing, whether it’s reading, journaling, stretching, meditating, calling someone you love, etc.
6. Reach Out To Social Supports
You do not have to face the holiday stressors alone! Call people you trust and that make you feel good and lean on them for support. Talking through your feelings with someone you trust and are comfortable with helps to reduce stress and gain another perspective.
Tip: Inform your social support that you may struggle with the holidays and set a plan with them to reach out, whether it's a phone call or text to gain support.
7. Focus On What You’re Grateful For
Oftentimes during stressful situations we get stuck on the negative things in our life. Try to spend time leaning into the positive things in your life. Focus on reminding yourself of things you feel grateful for to reduce negative thoughts and feelings.
Tip: Wake up every morning and identify at least one thing you’re grateful for; or every time you have a negative thought, follow it up with a positive thought.
8. Avoid Topics That Can Lead To Confrontation
Topics such as politics, religion, money, etc. often lead to confrontation and tension. Set boundaries prior to the holidays and ask family and friends to make it a holiday free of topics that can cause confrontation.
Tip: If a family member does bring up a controversial topic, kindly ask if you can change the topic. If they’re unwilling to change the topic, remind yourself you cannot control other people’s behavior and/or stop them from talking about controversial topics, and you can control that you do not have to engage, participate or respond to them.
9. Listen To Your Body
Our mental health presents in our body physically as well as emotionally. Focus on identifying physical signs in your body that may be signs of stress, anxiety, depression, or any other negative emotion.
Tip: Plan ahead! Have a list of coping skills ready that you can use to manage negative emotions, whether it’s walking away, deep breathing, meditating, etc.
10. Speak With A Professional
If you know the holidays often trigger intense negative emotions, it may be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist to gain support during this difficult time.
Tip: Reach out to NG Mental Health Counseling to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist to help improve your mental health during the holidays.