Happy Holidays... or Stressful Holidays?
This time of the year is often spent planning holidays, connecting with loved ones, prepping hearty meals, buying gifts, and cleaning our homes to get ready for guests. Thanksgiving is often a time to be thankful for the blessings in our lives such as our family, friends, health, education, and our home; however, not everyone has the fortune to experience these blessings. Christmas often known for ‘the most wonderful
time of the year’ while it brings joy, warmth and comfort to some, may bring feelings of stress and anxiety to others. If you relate to this, please know you are not alone, in fact, there are so many people that are in the same position you are and we want to help!
Am I at a higher risk?
The populations most impacted by holiday stress consist of lower to middle class individuals who find there is alot of pressure to spend extra money due to the commercialism that is embedded in the season. Women, in particular, are often in charge of the celebrations including cleaning, cooking, decorating, and grocery shopping. Students, often returning to your hometown brings up uncomfortable feelings that may heighten stress levels upon realizing you have changed since attending school. If you find yourself within these populations, keep an eye out and trust your intuition if your body is telling you to seek support and care.
Why do these feelings arise?
The holiday season is often a busy time of year, adding stressors to our already jam-packed lives. Our emotions can fluctuate with added pressure on connecting with friends and family during this season, yet another addition to our calendars on top of shopping, planning, cleaning, booking flights, etc. Interestingly enough, this time off generally feels more hectic than other holidays that we book throughout the year
because there is an expectation that each year the holidays are the best that they can be, glorifying perfectionism in an unattainable world. Often times during the holiday season, people find themselves indulging in poor habits such as living a sedentary lifestyle, comfort eating, drinking to manage stress, etc. These habits leave our bodies confused and throws hormone regulation into a panic about what is happening when compared to our normal lifestyle. Social media has played a role in pushing the latest
trends especially around the holiday season; decor ideas off of Pinterest, meal ideas from TikTok and of course all of the best photos from the festivities are posted on Instagram... sometimes making it feel like a competition or a sense of sadness from missing out at times.
Visiting family is a huge factor that is by far the most important to address for those dreading long hours in the same room as all of their loved ones. “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Ken Duckworth, MD. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.” It is common to feel sad when going home for the holidays, it brings up memories from
old times that may be bittersweet to recall. Reuniting with relatives may be uncomfortable at times, depending on your relationship and history together. The holidays can bring to light any changes that have happened over the course of the year including unsettling memories such as a family loss, a divorce, or a student coming home. For others, it may be the sameness that brings them depressive feelings due to
the pattern of the holidays remaining the same with the same people, same food, same atmosphere, same conversation. Lastly, unpredictable conversation with family members may cause some people stress such as questions about your future (When are you getting married? When will you have have babies?) or nagging about how long it had been since you were home... or even criticism on your lifestyle choices. There are many reasons why one might dread the holiday gatherings, but there are ways to
mediate the stress that might arise.
What can I do to cope?
Mindfulness brings your attention to the here and now, the present moment, in a way that boosts non-judgment and acceptance. Notice when you get stressed, agitated, anxious, by the way your body is reacting - are your shoulders tense, is your jaw stiff, do you have a headache, or are you tired constantly? In these moments, drift your awareness back to the present moment to remind yourself that everything is
okay! Make sure to start early with planning so that you have extra time to get the things you want done, to ensure that you can live in the moment to really enjoy the holidays... this is easier said than done so keep reading! ;)
Try to remain realistic with your planning for the holiday season - how much time you will spend with family vs. at home, how much money you are willing to spend and stick to it, book travel plans early with a back-up just in case, seek counselling or support from a loved one if you find yourself feeling anxious, and take care of yourself by getting proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Stick to your routine as closely as
possible throughout the holiday season, while incorporating the festive activities that you desire that bring you happiness. Acknowledge how you are feeling during each moment, and be gentle with yourself during moments of sadness, anxiety or grief.
When visiting someone’s home, notice when you need a break and give yourself the space to breathe in order to reduce any stress and restore your inner peace. For the time being during the holidays, give people the benefit of the doubt because they may be going through the effects of holiday stress too! Accept family members as they are and try working collaboratively with them through any ideas or conversations that come up. If you are unable to tolerate certain people, do not put yourself in an
uncomfortable situation - simply voice your boundaries and stay true to your decision, you know what is best for yourself! Most importantly, make time for yourself. Decide what YOU want to do this holiday season, if that is time alone doing something you love or going out to do an activity with a close friend, whatever that looks like for you - make sure to prioritize it.
Lastly, please do yourself a favor and learn to accept imperfection, praise it even! We are all doing our best for our families, and at the end of the day all they want is for you to be happy sharing the small moments with them. So shut off social media, indulge in the present moment and reach out for support to get you through the holiday season. Wishing you all the best & we look forward to connecting with you in
the New Year!
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