Mental Health

How to Handle Stress During the Holidays

Ashley Brooks
Ashley Brooks7 Dec 2022

If you feel stressed during the holiday season, you are not alone. The holidays present several demands, from cooking, shopping, and preparing your home for guests, all while still working. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic presents added worry for the health of you and your loved ones. A few ways to reduce stress during the Holiday season include planning and prioritizing, accepting uncertainty, and maintaining your health.

While the holidays require many demands, be sure to keep your health in check. Mira is proud to offer virtual care options such as telebehavioral health and virtual psychiatry in addition to virtual primary and urgent care services. Meet with a mental health professional to help better manage the holidays by signing up today.

How to Handle Stress During the Holidays

Despite the joys of gift-giving, time off work, and engaging with family, the holidays are a time for a whole host of pressures that can lead to high stress. Many are also experiencing seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression, during this same time.

Keep reading for some insight from mental health professionals on their tips for making it through the holidays. 

Step 1: Plan and Prioritize 

To stay on track with your health, map out your holiday commitments to understand when you can take time for yourself. Set aside specific days for holiday shopping, baking, family time, and other events over the holiday season. If you are hosting or planning on bringing a dish to a holiday gathering, plan your menus and make your shopping list, understanding what ingredients you already have at home. 

Some additional tips on strategic planning for your family gatherings to minimize conflict, offered by a licensed psychologist, Dr. Natalie Bernstein

  1. Take a few minutes to think about holidays from the past. Are you happy with how things went? Would you like anything to change? Be different? Try to be as specific as possible.
  2. Try to focus on how you typically feel during the holidays. Do you enjoy being around large groups? Does something about your family bother you?
  3. Remove your attachment to tradition. It’s okay to do things differently this year if “the way we’ve always done it” makes you feel uncomfortable, ends in conflict, or just doesn't feel good.
  4. Change the pattern. Remove yourself from unnecessary situations that make you feel uncomfortable before getting to that point.
  5. Let it go. Let go of the idea of perfect. Remember why you are together in the first place and focus on being together.
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Step 2: Accept Uncertainty

Even though you may take added caution to plan carefully during this time, be comfortable with things not going as planned. According to Habiba Zaman, family therapist and author of Beautifully Bare, Undeniably You, it could be helpful to “Maintain a sense of acceptance and flexibility when things are not going as planned. Anxiety is just our mind's way of trying to tell us that something is amiss. The best way to manage this anxiety is to do the things that bring control over the situation. Gather just enough information to maintain your sense of safety, and know what to look for and what to do in the meantime. Then tell yourself what it is that you are doing or have done to control what you can.”

Step 3: Maintain Your Health

Under the many pressures of the holidays, it is crucial to prioritize your health, especially amid a pandemic. You can quickly get worn down by the many holiday parties and running around the grocery stores and retail shops. Joy Puleo, M.A., NCPT, and Balanced Body Education Program Manager, suggests the following for prioritizing your health during the holidays:

“Balance indulgences with doing something healthy and nourishing will help you to maintain your health and weight during the holidays.” For example, “give yourself permission to enjoy, but do not let the indulgences accumulate without some modulation.”   

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Step 4: Have Some “You” Time

While you are busy catering to others, be sure to take some time for yourself. All of the demands of the holidays can be incredibly overstimulating. Try setting aside even just 15 minutes alone and without any distractions. Try also to put the phone away and mute notifications to decompress. 

Try not to spend this time scrolling through social media during these few quiet moments to yourself, as that can only make your pressures feel heavier from comparing yourself to others’ seemingly perfect holiday. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, consider taking a walk, engaging in meditation, reading a book, or listening to relaxing music. 

Step 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

Nearly 40 percent of Americans struggle with social anxiety during the winter, and about 38 percent of people say their stress levels increase during the holidays. With the higher prevalence of mental health concerns, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Despite the excessive family time, many may still feel lonely in a crowded room or have an added sense of pressure for holiday gatherings to go perfectly. While you are busy making your holiday gatherings enjoyable for others, keep your mental health in check. 

The American Psychology Association suggests seeking therapy when something causes distress and that abnormally interferes with your life when:

  • Thinking about or coping with the issue takes up at least an hour each day
  • The issue causes embarrassment or makes you want to avoid others
  • The issue has caused your quality of life to decrease
  • The issue has negatively affected school, work, or relationships
  • You’ve made changes in your life or develop habits to cope with the issue

If you also feel controlled by the following symptoms where they may harm yourself or others, consider seeking a mental health professional for help:

  • Overwhelm.
  • Fatigue.
  • Disproportionate rage, anger, or resentment.
  • Fear of being in places you might experience panic attacks or become trapped.
  • Anxious or intrusive thoughts.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Hopelessness.
  • Social withdrawal.

Bottom Line

The holidays can feel incredibly overwhelming as your to-do list may be seemingly never-ending. Plan out your commitments and be open to flexibility to manage your stress during the holidays better. While prioritizing those around you, be sure to keep your health in check. Set aside time for just yourself to relax, and don’t be afraid to talk it over with a mental health expert! 

Ashley Brooks

Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!