Movies, television and social media depict the holidays as a magical season of cheer. All stress and negativity are erased in favor of perfect memories and family togetherness.
While we all long for a period of respite during the upcoming season, the reality is that all the problems that were on our plate beforehand — family issues, money problems, mental health concerns, substance use, etc. — still exist during the holidays.
The holidays can still be filled with special moments and joy. However, many of us still struggle with stress during this festive season. If you’re struggling to manage overwhelming stress this time of year, here are some tips to get you through.
Stress during the holidays
Increased stress during the holidays may contradict expectations. This cognitive dissonance is part of what contributes to the distress commonly felt this time of year. Add that to a packed agenda, cleaning, cooking, hosting, traveling, entertaining, shopping and more, and it’s no surprise that many people feel tension during the holidays.
We naturally respond to these high demands with alertness and wakefulness. However, when this status is prolonged, physical, emotional and psychological stress results. It takes a toll on our body, mind and spirit.
The first step in combating stress is understanding where it’s coming from. Here are the most common sources of stress during the holidays. Once you know the origin of your stress, you can use the tips that follow to directly address the issue.
Family holiday stress
Whether you’re spending the holidays with relatives or chosen family, getting together with a couple of people or a group of 50, traveling or staying home, holiday gatherings can be stressful.
Family holiday stress is a common shared experience, and dealing with loved ones isn’t always easy, no matter how much you love them. Kids may argue over gifts, you may feel uncomfortable around relatives you don’t know well or in-laws may feel intrusive.
Ways to combat family holiday stress
If you’re struggling to manage relationships this year, you can prepare for the holidays by anticipating triggers to stress and coming up with ways to handle them. Are politics bound to come up? Plan to excuse yourself or ask to change the subject, offering another interesting and less polarizing or sensitive topic.
Many people also find that relationships with relatives can be tested in this season. The best way to deal with these difficulties is to prevent them in the first place. Establish boundaries, such as appropriate gift giving, the end time of your party or how many days relatives can visit.
Financial holiday stress
Christmas, Hanukkah and other gift-giving holidays can carry heavy expectations. For individuals and families that struggle with financial insecurity, the pressure to deliver a happy holiday comes at a high cost.
If you’ve been struggling to make ends meet during prior months, the weeks leading up to the holidays can feel impossible.
Ways to combat financial holiday stress
In order to counteract the anxiety of not having enough money, focus on building a budget far in advance. Based on previous years’ spending, decide on a reasonable amount to set aside for the holidays (food, gifts, travel and other expenses included). Create a month-by-month plan to save up.
You can also focus on participating in free holiday traditions, like tree lighting ceremonies, window shopping, driving around viewing holiday lights and attending religious events. Aim to give homemade gifts, cook or bake seasonal treats or DIY holiday decor.
Mental health holiday stress
The holidays can also be a burden for those with existing mental health issues. For someone with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder or substance use disorder, the festivities can cause new or contribute to existing distress.
Both expected and unexpected triggers can abound with the unique and celebratory nature of the season. Moreover, this time of year can bring up painful memories, exacerbating grief and trauma.
Ways to combat mental health holiday stress
For those with mental health disorders, the best tool for managing holiday stress is to stay consistent with treatment or to seek professional treatment for the first time. Even if your schedule feels too busy, it’s in your best interest to continue therapy and recommit to your treatment plan.
In addition, it’s helpful to take preventative measures for mental health or substance use relapse by anticipating triggers and building up coping strategies. You may decide that it’s best to avoid certain gatherings or events if you feel unable to manage the triggers they will bring (i.e. a party where there will be excessive drinking or a family member who makes hurtful comments about your weight or food intake).
Dealing with stress
Managing holiday stress is a tricky task, but once you’ve identified the source (or sources) of the pressure you’ve been feeling, you’ll find that it’s much easier to do something about it.
When emotions are high, partaking in self-reflection and creating an action plan on your own may not come easily, though. You may have even tried it in the past and found that it was too difficult or unhelpful to your recovery. That’s why professional support is so important.
If you’re struggling to overcome stress during the holidays, this is the prime time to start meeting with a professional counselor. When you get help for your stress, a trained expert can help you set priorities, identify triggers, practice self-care and so much more.
You deserve to feel joyful this holiday season, and it is possible no matter what kind of stress you are facing. Reach out to Pyramid Online Counseling today to get started.