The MLRA Therapy Blog

Insights and ideas from the therapist team at Meghan L. Reitz and Associates.

6 Holiday Stressors: How to Cope


The holidays are a joyful time but can also be very stressful when family, work, faith and finances get thrown at you at once. Regardless of how you might celebrate, your religion or faith, or your past holiday experiences, this time of year can produce stress in many different ways. Here are some of the top holiday season stressors and how to combat them:

1. Family

The holidays are a time when families spend more time together than normal which is something many look forward to. But it can also bring out irritations and frustrations especially if you spend this time with relatives you normally are unable to see or even avoid the rest of the year.

HOW TO COPE: Ground yourself in the knowledge that this family togetherness will come to an end. Inspire yourself with the knowledge there is something to be gained by, or at least find humor in, the hearing of granny’s story for the 150th time or hearing your in-laws gripe about the government. Stay in the moment and don’t let old squabbles get the best of you.

2. Preparation

Additional holiday tasks that get added to your normal schedule can be overwhelming. Entertaining, shopping for gifts, cooking, and travel can feel like too much especially if you already have a packed daily schedule.

HOW TO COPE: Prepare in October or early November by clearing out excess commitments in December so you have time for your nephew's school winter pageant or to make the hundreds of cookies you’re planning to bake for a family gathering. Pay a little extra now to pamper yourself later during travel by using an airport lounge or get a seat upgrade. Or book your plans to travel on off-peak days so there will be less crowds at the airports. The knowledge you planned well will let you relax now and then.

3. Remembering the ones we’ve lost

The holidays can be a big trigger when grieving the loss of a loved one. It often becomes more “real” during the holidays that your loved one is no longer physically with you. This becomes particularly true when it is the first holiday without this person.

HOW TO COPE: It’s OK. We all grieve in different ways. Try to share moments of happiness or humor with your family and friends. Remember funny stories of the person or great accomplishments. Honor them in the way you know best and lean on those around you for support.

NEW: In 2016, MLRA is offering a new Grief and Loss Support Group. LEARN MORE >>>

4. Holiday Let Down

Do you ever feel that things “should” be a certain way during the holidays? Breaking from traditions or experiencing a holiday that doesn’t match up with your visions often leads to disappointment. Your high expectations for the holidays can lead to a let down when things just don’t work out the way you wanted or expected.

HOW TO COPE: Grounding to the rescue again! Think about the things that you find truly important and meaningful about the holiday. These are usually easily attainable things that will help you better set your expectations. Maybe your parents are fighting or the turkey you made is too dry. At least you have your family there and something to eat. If there is no silver lining you can come up with… make one! Do a kind gesture for a neighbor you barely know or donate food or money to a charity to make sure you get your needs for a successful holiday met by helping others.

5. Finances

During the holidays, your wallet often takes a hit. It is an expensive time of year with all the gifts, parties, food, and travel. If finances are something you already have concerns about, the holidays can increase the pressure.

HOW TO COPE: Reduce your obligations and think outside the box for low cost, meaningful gifts. It is also okay to admit financial issues to family or friends if you are comfortable with sharing that information. The holiday season isn’t about going into debt. You might be surprised by how supportive others can be if you are open and honest about it. Also, consider a “no-gift” holiday where the focus is more on the time spent together in the spirit of the holiday. Be upfront about your financial ability to travel as well. With new technologies like FaceTime, you can often connect virtually to family and friends afar, which should be the focus of the holiday either way.

6. Overwhelming Holiday Obligations

Everyone’s schedule gets jam packed around the holidays with cookie exchanges, work functions, school performances, shopping, cooking and visiting with friends and family. It can be very overwhelming! Needing to be somewhere, remembering to do something and interacting with others can take a lot out of you both physically and emotionally. There can also be added exhaustion from the over indulgence in sweets and alcohol as well as those late nights.

HOW TO COPE: Say “No”. It’s hard to say no to holiday events and requests, but by not obligating yourself to everything everyone asks of you, you will be taking the first step to self-care. When you can’t say no or don’t want to, then it is important to practice some mindfulness techniques to keep everything in perspective and positive. Think about the joy you’re bringing to those around you as well as look forward to the feeling of success you will have when you complete these tasks. For each thing you take on, let it be the only one in your mind, keep yourself focused on that task and the good that your obligatory task is bringing you or others. When all else fails… just breathe. A few minutes of calming breathing or meditation a few times a day can push the holiday crazy away and let you focus on successfully accomplishing your Holiday activities.


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