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Here’s How to Cope With the Stresses of the Holiday Season

Joshua Moreton
cope holiday stress
When setting the table for your holiday guests, two unwelcome faces often appear unwittingly. Stress and depression are more common around the holidays because there is so much more going on for and around you.

Many people experience holiday stress, which involves heightened levels of depression, and anxiety during the festive season. It can be caused by financial difficulties, increased workload, or simply the stress of organizing family events. 

Increased stress during this period can significantly impact your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Engaging in online therapy via platforms like BetterHelp and Online-Therapy.com is one great way to cope with holiday stress, but if you need a few quick tips that can help right now, below, we’ve gathered our top ten suggestions. 

From stressful time crunches to social situations that cause anxiety, there are so many things that can trigger anxiety, stress, depression, and all-out panic attacks. Here are a few things that can cause tension during this time of year, and some quick tips, here are some ways you might help cope with stress during holiday seasons.

Things That Can Cause Stress During the Holidays

1.  Having to buy gifts

This is a major stressor for just about everyone for several reasons. For one, the pressure to pick out just the right present is enough to make someone scream. Add to that the frustration of long lines, busy stores, pushy crowds, lack of parking, and sensory overstimulation, and you’ve created a recipe for disaster.

2. Making holiday meals

Holidays mean big meals, lots of food, and even more stress. Preparing a menu, shopping for groceries (fighting the crowds), cooking the food, serving, and clearing up after is a tall order for anyone.

3. Family conflicts

While most people love their family, too much of a good thing can be, well, not a good thing. With holiday parties aplenty, trips, and shopping expeditions happening frequently, it’s easy to get too much family time, causing anxiety and stress to rise.

4. Holiday workloads

With the holidays approaching, most places of work will have heavy workloads, strict deadlines, and longer hours. This can increase your stress levels dramatically, especially when you're trying to please your boss while trying to plan a relaxing holiday vacation.

5. Awkward events

More than 15 million adults across America suffer from social anxiety. If you are one of them, social outings are a nightmare for you, and office parties are among the worst. Forced to socialize in an awkward setting, anxiety is inevitable.

6. Loneliness

While some people are trying to combat the stress of busy schedules, too much family time, and social anxiety overload, others are struggling with a completely different kind of anxiety. For some individuals, the holidays are a poignant reminder that they are alone. Not able to be surrounded by friends and loved ones can be particularly painful during this time of year.

Healthy Ways of Coping With Stress Around the Holidays

No matter what time of year, stress is not a pleasant feeling to experience. Fortunately, there are multiple things you can do to prevent or cope with this mounting emotion. Here are 8 ways to keep these unpleasant companions from showing up uninvited.

Stress Coping Tip #1: Check Your Expectations

When the holidays come around, many people have grand plans. The table setting, the wrapping paper, the holiday photo. It’s all meant to be picture perfect. But here’s a news flash; life isn’t picture perfect. Don’t set yourself up for failure, and don’t add more stress to your life striving for an unattainable goal. Review your holiday goals and make sure that you have realistic expectations for how this season is going to play out.

Stress Coping Tip #2: Label it to Disable it

Acknowledge your feelings. There is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed out, or altogether negative about this time of year. It’s also ok to feel sad if you are alone. Particularly, if a loved one has recently left or passed away, it is very common to experience grief during the holidays.

Whatever emotions you are feeling right now, acknowledge them. Give them a name, so they don’t seem larger than life (sadness is more manageable than a vague feeling of grief that goes unnamed). And don’t be ashamed to cry, even while others around you are caroling. Your feelings are legitimate, and nobody can tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel, even the calendar.

Stress Coping Tip #3: Give Yourself Space

When the holidays come around, so do social obligations. Various social obligations include office parties, family gatherings, community programs, religious-affiliation get-togethers, and more. For someone who has a difficult time in social situations, the holidays are a terrifying prospect with disastrous projections.

When the mingling gets to be too much, allow yourself to step outside, take a few minutes upstairs in your room, or go home altogether. You have no obligation to stay all night long. What’s more, there’s no law that says you must attend every function either. If the constant social stimulation is starting to overwhelm you, sit this one out. You’ll be able to embrace and handle the next event with greater peace of mind and fortitude.

Stress Coping Tip #4: Make a Plan

Often, we start to feel overwhelmed because we have so much to do during this time of year. Between the shopping, the cooking, the organizing, and more, holidays usher in a whole mess of anxiety-laden opportunities. It’s much easier to handle holiday mayhem if you have a plan. Make an organized list of everything you’ll need to take care of. Be sure to include minor details as well.

Once you have a concrete list, you can tackle one task at a time. With this one step in front of the other approach, you will be able to process the entire season much more easily and calmly. You can also put specific tasks into days or time slots, so you know exactly when you are getting each thing done.

Making a plan can also include a budget, particularly if money is a major trigger for you (as it is for many people). If you have a budget, then you know exactly how much you want to spend on each category, keeping the stress of spending in check. Note: If having a budget will stress you out more because you’ll constantly be nervous about going over, then perhaps you skip this part of the process (but only if you can afford to).

Stress Coping Tip #5: Share the Responsibilities

Frequently, stress comes from feeling overwhelmed by too many possibilities. In the case of holiday preparations, stress quickly builds when thinking about all of the things you have to get done. A simple solution to avoid stress-building situations is to delegate tasks to other people. 

If you're having a large crowd for Christmas dinner, for example, ask everyone to make something instead of doing all the cooking yourself. There's no crime in getting others to pitch in, and you're not any less of a superhero for asking for help.

Stress Coping Tip #6: Reach Out for Help

When you're feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or any other overwhelming emotion, it's important to reach out for help. This might be picking up the phone to call a friend or sibling who you feel close to. Or it might mean calling on the assistance of a professional. Online therapy is an affordable way for anyone to get the support, guidance, and tools they need to help them through a difficult time.

Stress Coping Tip #7: Stay Healthy

The holidays are a notorious time for tossing healthy habits out the window. Even the most balanced dieters often fall victim to the stress and lack of time ushered in during these hectic weeks. But dropping your healthy habits can decrease your energy levels, dopamine production (the happy hormone), and increase stressors in your body.

During this time, try to stick with healthy habits. Have a healthy snack before a party or meal, try to limit sugary foods, and get enough sleep so that your mind and body can recover. Also, try to incorporate some sort of physical activity into your day every day.

Stress Coping Tip #8: Use Mood Enhancers

Feeling down or blue? Sometimes, all that our emotional side needs is a little boost from a friendly mood enhancer. Try some of these for an instant pick-me-up:

Stress Coping Tip #9: Practice Mindfulness

One empirically evidenced method of avoiding or reducing stress is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique used within cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most common types of therapy, that encourages us to become aware and attend to feelings and sensations that occur in the present moment. It is about actively monitoring your experiences in the here and now with acceptance and without judgment. 

To achieve this, when stress triggers emerge, try intensely attending to the sensations of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. Pay attention to the world around you—try to slow your mind down, focus on your breathing, and notice the various little details. If it helps, you can close your eyes to really focus on the sounds and smells in your environment. 

You can also try sitting or walking meditation. When stressful situations emerge, make time to leave the source of stress and go to a safe space, such as your bedroom or a calm, clear path outside. Sit comfortably with your back straight or begin to walk slowly, being mindful of every sensation that you experience, making note of each one in your mind before gradually moving on to the next. Whichever method you choose, this should help to calm your mind during stressful or anxiety-inducing situations and lead to improved well-being in the long term.

Stress Coping Tip #10: Try Self-Validation

Self-validation is a technique employed by dialectical behavior therapy, an offshoot of CBT, that helps to reduce stress and manage thoughts and emotions more effectively. Often, we can struggle with specific stressful thoughts and emotions during the holiday season, which can, in turn, produce negative secondary feelings about ourselves and our stress response. These are often harmful to our mood and self-esteem.

First, try to acknowledge the specific emotion you are feeling. Label it objectively. It could be “stress,” “anxiety,” or simply “feeling bad.” You only need to put a name to it.

Next is giving yourself permission to experience this feeling. It’s perfectly okay to feel stressed in this situation—almost everyone does to some degree. Everyone is going through a similar situation to you in one regard or another. And it’s perfectly okay to feel the way you do.

Finally, try to contextualize your emotions by understanding why you’re feeling the way you are. Put your feelings in the context of a specific situation and think about past events that might influence how you feel and your response to stressful triggers. Importantly, don’t judge yourself—think objectively about yourself within your circumstances, and accept that this is how you are at this moment and that your feelings are perfectly understandable

Dealing With Holiday Stress

Note, if you’re still struggling to deal with stressful situations despite your efforts, you might want to check out symptoms of anxiety or online therapy for anxiety. Holiday stress could simply be part of an ongoing struggle that could benefit from professional help.

Joshua Moreton
Joshua Moreton holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Essex, with a focus on social cognition and social psychology, and has worked as a Mental Health Practitioner and Psychologist, working with patients of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.