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How To Beat Holiday Stress: Tips From A Mental Health Counselor

From gift-giving to dealing with holiday loneliness, this guide will help put the happy back in holidays

The holidays are here yet again.  No doubt the last couple of months have been busy and stressful for everyone, and by this time next month we will be putting it all behind us for another year.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the holiday season very much. I like the scenery, the food, the family, the atmosphere, and though I hesitate to admit it, even the music.  It can be a fun time of year, but it's not without a lot of added stress. There may be extra financial burdens, the anxiety over getting the right gifts for people, and the stress around planning family gatherings, and this can be a tough time of year for people who have experienced loss. My goal today is to give you my tips for managing and minimizing stress around the holidays.

Gift giving

Giving to others is part of what we love about the holidays, but it can be stressful.  There's the financial stress involved in buying gifts, and there can also be anxiety around buying the right gifts for people.  Here are some ways to make gift giving easier on your wallet as well as your conscience.

  1. Talk about it with your family and friends. I know it seems strange to sit down and discuss holiday stress with those you are spending the holidays with, but it can actually be very healthy for everyone. What you'll probably find is that you're not alone in your worries.. There may be compromises everyone is in agreement with (i.e. spending limits, only buying gifts for certain people, etc.). The first step in reaching these compromises is to talk about it.
  2. Set realistic expectations. No one knows your financial situation better than you, and you probably have an idea of how much you can afford to spend during the holidays.  I know it's tempting to go all out, but you don't want to be dreading your credit card bills for the next 4 months. Try to work out a budget that you can stick to and still feel good about.
  3. Start preparing early. You don't necessarily need to start shopping early to start preparing early.  It could be as easy as making the list of people you need to buy for, setting your budget, or even saving extra money before the holiday season hits.  
  4. Remember that the holidays are about more than just the gifts. Yes it sounds clichéd, but try to remind yourself that the holiday season is about more than what you buy for people.  Holidays are meant to be a time to enjoy the company of those you love. Again, you're not the only one stressed out, and you're probably not the only one who doesn't care about how many presents they get, so remember that your friends and family probably care more about your company than your gifts.


Spending time with friends and family during the holidays can bring about its own stress.  Some people have multiple families to work around, others get stuck hosting large gatherings and doing the bulk of the work, and some people just don't like certain members of their family that they feel obligated to see during the holidays.  Here are some tips for reducing your stress around the holiday gatherings themselves:

  1. Share the load. Even if you're hosting, it's not at all rude or unreasonable to ask others to pitch in.  You could ask those who are able to come a little early to help you set up or ask people to bring food to reduce the cooking you'll have to do.  If you're not the one hosting, try to offer help where you can. You might find that when everyone pitches in it actually makes the holidays more special and enjoyable
  2. Don't try to fit it all in one day. You don't necessarily have to see everyone on the actual holiday.  If you have to juggle yourself between multiple families, see if you can spread out the get-togethers rather than fit them all in back-to-back.  If you change the expectations of having to see everyone on the same day, you may find you have more time to spend with everyone and it will be a lot more fun and less stressful.
  3. Focus on your commonalities, not your differences. It's okay to admit that there are some family members that you just don't enjoy spending time with.  You may not see eye-to-eye, or maybe there is a bad history that tends to get stirred up when you’re together.  No matter what the issue is with certain family members you might see during the holidays, you can make the experience as pleasant as possible by choosing to focus on what brings you together rather than what tears you apart.

Grief and loneliness

The holidays can be hard for people who have experienced loss and who feel alone.  The memories of past holidays can sometimes remind us of people who are no longer here, and those who don't have many people in their lives will tend to focus on their loneliness.  If you find you struggle in these ways during the holiday season, try to remember the following:

  1. Don't ignore your pain. It can be hard to sit with unresolved grief during such a busy time of year, but it's important to acknowledge that you're still grieving.  Don't push the grief and pain away, remember to use the experience as a way to move through the grieving process or seek help if necessary.
  2. Talk about it. Remember that you're not alone in how you're feeling during the holidays, and there are probably people around you that you can reach out to for support in whatever ways you need it.
  3. Focus on what's there rather than what's not. If you find your grief or loneliness to be overwhelming, take some time to remember the positives in your life.  If you're sitting at the dinner table with family and distracted by thoughts of missing someone, try to turn your focus on the ones you love who are there with you. It's important in general to learn how to balance grieving over the past with staying in the here-and-now.
  4. Find something positive to do. If you have no one to spend the holidays with, or are choosing not to spend it with family for some reason, make sure you find something to do rather than sit in your own depressed thoughts. There are plenty of charities who need help during the holidays, and making the choice to do something positive for others will help keep you in the holiday spirit.

I hope these strategies help you all to have a wonderful holiday season!

Posted: 19 December 2018
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Scott Fantucchio, LMHC

Scott is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field.

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