Ten Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

You Can Make It Through the Holidays with These Stress-Busting Tips

Multi-generation family in the kitchen. Credit: Susan Chiang

We all look forward to the holidays and hope that they will be a time of happiness, friendliness, fellowship, and harmony. Yet often our anticipation and excitement turns into feelings of depression and/or family disharmony.

Part of what happens in the holiday season, in terms of mood changes and anxiety, may occur because of the stressfulness of holiday events. It may also be caused by over-drinking, overeating, and fatigue.

The demands of the season are many: shopping, cooking, and travel; house guests, family reunions, parties, office parties, and extra financial burden.

Sometimes people who are not generally depressed actually struggle with holiday depression. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, intestinal problems, and unnecessary conflict with family and friends.

Here are some tools to get through the holiday season happily....as well as ways to prevent problems and misery for yourself and your loved ones:

1. Have an attitude of gratitude. Misery and gratitude cannot occupy the same space in our psychological house, and we have the power to choose between these emotional states.

2. Be responsible for how you behave.  The most important part of avoiding holiday stress with our families is for each of us to feel mastery over, & satisfaction with, our own behaviors, attitudes & feelings.

If you know in your head and your heart that you've acted like the best parent, child, brother, sister, friend that you know how to be, you can walk away from any difficulty feeling good about yourself.

3. If you're feeling depressed and lonely, volunteer with any number of groups that help underprivileged or hospitalized children, the homeless, or the aged and disabled at the holidays.

There are many, many opportunities for doing community service. No one can be depressed when they are doing community service.

4. Decide upon your priorities and stick to them. Organize your time. Be reasonable with your schedule. Do not overbook yourself into a state of exhaustion--this makes people cranky, irritable, and depressed.

5 Remember, no matter what your plans, the holidays do not automatically take away feelings of aloneness, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear.

6. Be careful about resentments related to holidays past. Declare an amnesty with whichever family member or friend you are feeling past resentments. Do not feel it is helpful or intimate to tell your relative every resentment on your long laundry list of grievances. Don't let your relative do that to you, either.

7. Don't expect the holidays to be just as they were when you were a child. They NEVER are. YOU are not the same as when you were a child, and no one else in the family is either. On the other hand, if your memories of childhood holidays are awful, be grateful that you now have the capacity and skills to make them wonderful for yourself and those you love.

8. Plan unstructured, low-cost fun holiday activities: window-shop and look at the Holiday decorations. Look at people's Christmas lighting on their homes, take a trip to the countryside, etc.--the opportunities are endless.

9. Do not let the holidays become a reason for over-indulging in food and drink and create unnecessary weight gain and hangovers for yourself. This will exacerbate your depression and anxiety. Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol is a depressant.

10. Give yourself a break; create time for yourself to do the things YOU love to do.

If you keep only one thing in mind to combat the holiday blues, make it be to remember: The choice is always yours: The sky is partly sunny, and the glass is half full, if you want it to be that way. Depression is usually a clinical disorder, but sometimes "the blues" confront all of us, particularly at holiday time. It may be caused by the memory of loss, feelings of disappointment, or just being run down from parties, overeating, and drinking. But for many of us, holiday depression can be a choice we, in effect, choose to make. If we choose not to make this choice, we can choose instead to focus on the partly sunny skies and revel in our gratitude for our bounty, health, hope, and our courage to face each day with hope and determination.

For a more detailed guide to overcoming the panic brought on by dysfunctional family experiences, read Mark Sichel's book, Healing From Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off From a Family Member.

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