The holiday season can be a considerably stressful and overwhelming time. Holiday stress can take many forms. At this time of year, we might overspend, have some tense family interactions, overeat, drink to excess, or experience loneliness or disappointment as we reflect on the past year. It’s rough! Following are some considerations on dealing well with holiday stress:
How we view our ability to deal with family interactions can set the tone for how stressful we actually find family time to be around the holidays. Similarly, how we think about family members can affect our mood and stress levels. It may be a good idea to consciously practice shifting your perspective before going to that family gathering; I recommend practicing thoughts that will be more helpful and less emotionally taxing (i.e., “This is one of the few times we are all together,” or “Aunt Barb gets on my nerves, but I can appreciate her pecan pie“).
Know what “triggers” you might have in these situations, and anticipate how you might be bothered. Then choose to think and act differently ahead of time. This might help put into perspective the limited amount of time together. Ultimately it can make that time less stress-inducing than previous holiday gatherings. Enter into social interactions being mindful of your emotions, and remember — this period of time will pass! In the meantime, is there something you can enjoy about the interaction? If not, is there a way you can respond positively to your quirky relative rather than react negatively?
“Eat, drink, and be merry” may be an appropriate adage for the holidays. However, it can also wreak havoc on our mental and physical health if done excessively. Excessive or binge drinking can worsen depression. Overeating has become a common phenomenon in the past decade — with its own slew of associated psychological problems. (Americans gain about one pound over the holidays.)
Don’t wait until the new year to be mindful of how much alcohol, drugs, or food you are consuming — start today. Find opportunities to be physically active and connect with friends over activities that don’t involve alcohol or a culinary feast (although there is nothing inherently wrong with those options). By all means, enjoy drinking and eating, but perhaps set a goal to savor what you are consuming. This is preferable to making it your sacred mission to finish the food in front of you, no matter what.
Holiday stress: Coping with loneliness
For some folks, the holidays are a festive and social time. For others, it can be a lonely time due to strained family relationships or being geographically isolated from loved ones. Staying physically active, spending time outside of your home, and volunteering can help with lonely feelings that add to holiday stress. Social support is critical during this time and is a proven way to improve mental health. Additionally, for some of us, reflection on the past year brings up disappointments of unaccomplished goals. Acknowledge the disappointment, but don’t get stuck in it. It’s important to recognize the things you have done this year rather than focusing on what you have not done.
Remember that the ups and downs you feel during the holidays are often a temporary stress response to what can be a stressful time of year. Making small shifts in your approach to the holidays can help you survive, and even thrive, through this time of year. If you need help with some of these skills, it might be a good idea to contact a professional who can provide guidance and support. You might cannot fully control the amount of holiday stress that comes up, but we can learn to manage it in healthy and constructive ways.
Subscribe to the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy blog!