How to Cope with Holiday Stress

Since the holiday season is in full swing, many of us worry about getting the perfect gift, making travel arrangements, putting our finances in order, or welcoming back the young adults who just completed their first college semester. This produces a lot of holiday stress and anxiety during one of the most exciting times of the year. More importantly, this is the part of the year where we are spending the most time with our families.

Thinking about visiting relatives can be the most stressful thing we experience all year! However, it is important to practice self-care during these times so we can be the best for ourselves and for our families. The American Psychological Association (APA) has a Holiday Stress Resource Center to assist those who might be experiencing stress this time of year. The following tips are to help alleviate the stressors that go along with “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Difficult Conversations That Contribute to Holiday Stress

Given the current political climate it is easy to make our thoughts and feelings known, especially to those closest to us. It is important to agree to disagree when we feel ourselves getting upset. Unproductive arguments definitely contribute to holiday stress. A tip APA provides is to have a conversation goal in mind and engaging in like-minded topics. Hopefully, this will help keep heated discussions to a minimum and lead to more positive interactions with our relatives.

In addition, it is important to know when a conversation is no longer productive. Once we realize that the conversation is no longer moving forward, it is important to step away and give ourselves permission to gather our thoughts and feelings. This helps us to resist the impulse to say things we do not mean and things we cannot take back. In the moment it may feel great to get in a quick insult. However, it does not make for a pleasant holiday experience. While we are having these heated discussions, we often forget that we may see our relatives at future family gatherings. That is why it is crucial for us to be aware of how we may come across to others.

Positive Communication to Reduce Holiday Stress

When communicating with our families, it is important to make sure we are properly expressing ourselves. This helps to release any tension or animosity regarding difficult conversations. A popular communication strategy is called DEAR MAN. DEAR MAN helps us to communicate without judgement and to be aware of how we present topics that are important to us. The following outlines the DEAR MAN communication skills:

  • Describe the problem without judgement
  • Express yourself using an “I feel….” statement
  • Assert what you need from the other person as clear and simple as possible
  • Reinforce the benefits of communication by indicating what the other person may get out of what you are saying
  • Be Mindful of your posture, tone, facial expressions and the other person’s as well
  • Appear confident with using eye contact, clear speech, nodding, and having an open posture
  • Negotiate suitable alternatives and be willing to compromise

Manage Expectations 

After watching many holiday movies over the years, I have noticed that they always end with a happily ever after. In fact, most of the problems the main characters experience pales in comparison to what we experience all the time. With that said, APA offers another tip about managing our expectations during the holidays. This is especially important for parents of college age students who are returning after their first semester.

The first semester of college is a period of adjustment for any student due to harder classes, more independence, meeting new people, and trying to maintain connections from high school. When students come home, it is not surprising that they want to sleep, not talk about school, and spend time with friends they have not seen in months. As parents it is important to remember this may have been the first time their child has been able to truly relax in months. Also, it is important for parents to keep in mind that their child is growing, maturing, and has spent a considerable amount of time on their own. If parents are feeling that their child is not spending as much time with the family over the holidays, it is even more important to utilize positive communication strategies.

Practice Self-Care 

Most of us look forward to the holidays, because it is most likely when we will receive a break from work. However, we continue to be busy with preparing for the upcoming festivities and events. This can have us feeling like we did not get a break. That is why it is important to practice self-care during this time of year. Self-care can be whatever you want it to be. Some enjoy a nice bubble bath, while others enjoy exercising. Practicing self-care should not be something we do during the holidays or in times of extreme stress. We should incorporate it into our daily schedules as much as we do with technology. Giving yourself 30-minutes a day to focus on your own emotional needs is the best thing you could do for yourself.

In conclusion, we all want the holidays to bring about amazing experiences and memories. For those experiences to be great we need to be mindful of our own well-being and the well-being of others. Positively communicating with others, knowing that not everything or everyone is perfect, and understanding the importance of self-care will help to make this time of year special.


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