How to Deal When Serious Holiday Stress Takes Its Toll

woman stressed holidays / Central IT Alliance

The most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful in myriad ways. So, if you find your heart going pitter-patter in more of an anxiety-ridden way than in a joy-filled one, you're not alone.


Here, four common stress triggers that may be preventing you from enjoying the season, along with expert advice on how to cope.

The Family Gathering From Hell

Whether your sister-in-law is a thorn in your side or your divorced parents can't seem to act civil for just one day, how do you deal when not everyone gets along?

"Sometimes you may be the one not getting along with family members, you may be stuck in the middle of the conflict, or you may just be witnessing the tension," says Roxanna Yashouafar, LCSW, a therapist and life coach. "The key thing to remember is you can't change or control others; you can only change and control how you react to situations."

Often, simply removing yourself from the situation, taking deep breaths, and coming back when you've had an chance to clear your mind will help, says Yashouafar.

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"Perfect Holiday" Pressure

We want to give our loved ones the best of the best, but we shouldn't do so at the expense of our own emotional well-being. Michael Ellner, a medical support hypnotist, self-care educator, and life/health coach, suggests practicing this quick, hypno-meditative technique:

  1. Become comfortable with your surroundings. Imagine that you are feeling safe and secure floating on a cloud.
  2. Imagine and/or remember a song that is associated with a past experience in which you were feeling at ease, energized, and very self-assured -- doing so personalizes the experience for you. Now, add the sights, smells, tastes, and touches that were part of that experience if you can.
  3. Gently bring your attention to being inside of your body. Fill your mind with a sense of occupying all of the space inside of you from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Imagine every cell in your body dancing in total harmony.
  4. Now, imagine that you are soaking up that sense of ease, energy, and confidence. Just before ending, inhale deeply, and, in your mind, quietly shout, "I'm coming back with a happy heart, peaceful mind, and playful spirit." Bring yourself back into the moment, knowing that just thinking "happy heart, peaceful mind, and playful spirit" will automatically help you relax and de-stress.

The Financial Crush

If it's finances that have you down this holiday season, Patty Behrens, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Fresno, California, advises, "Set a financial boundary on spending limits, and stick to it. Make sure there is a cushion for unexpected last-minute gifts. Decide what events and how many you will attend."

In other words, you can RSVP "no." "Simply state, 'I have other plans,'" Behrens advises. "That's not lying, as you are making a commitment for self-care, to reduce your stress."

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Marking a Tragedy

Perhaps the holidays are particularly hard because it's the anniversary of a death or unpleasant event in your life. Cut yourself a break and allow yourself some time to cope and grieve.

"It's okay if you don't feel super-happy right now," says Helen Chalmers, a licensed professional counselor in Dallas, Texas. "Give yourself time and space to process your grief. If possible, spend time with others who miss the same person or who have had a similar experience. Sometimes, finding a way to remember or memorialize the person is helpful, such as buying a particular Christmas ornament, making a donation in their name, lighting a candle, or even sharing memories about the person."

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No, the holidays won't be the same without your loved one, Chalmers notes. "It's okay to acknowledge that, but it also doesn't have to be a time of misery," she says. "Look for even one positive thing to celebrate or appreciate about the season."

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