Turn Holiday Stress Around

By Gina McSheffrey Emmons, PhD

It is that time of year again! The time where we get together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. It can be a time of excitement and joy, but it can be a stressful time as well for several reasons. First, the stress of gift buying and preparing for the holidays can take a toll on many people. Second, getting together with relatives can be stressful because everyone may not get along with each other. Third, the holidays can be a time of sadness and loneliness. Remembering the ones we have lost can be especially difficult around the holidays as it can stir up sad feelings in the midst of what is supposed to be a happy time of year. Furthermore, if others do not have family and friends nearby, spending the holidays alone can trigger feelings of loneliness and depression.

If you tend to have mixed feelings around the holidays for various reasons, you can decide to change it around this year. Try to do something different to make it more meaningful and perhaps to help you better cope with the stresses of the holiday season. You can make it about giving back to others. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make it a point to see someone you have not seen in a while.
  • Limit gift buying; instead of exchanging gifts, come up with other ideas such as making a group donation to a charity, or making a donation in honor of a loved one.
  • Give back by volunteering at a local food pantry/soup kitchen, donating food, organizing a group to sing carols at a nursing home, helping a neighbor, or raising money for a cause.
  • Thank someone for their help; compliment someone for a job they did.

As the year comes to an end, it is a good time for reflection and planning to make some positive changes in your life. Some suggestions for moving forward in the New Year are:

  • Take time to think about the year and what accomplishments you’ve made. What are some things you have done this year and are proud of? Was there anything you didn’t think you could do, but did? Celebrate small accomplishments.
  • Acknowledge mistakes made, but do not dwell on them. Forgive yourself for them and think how you can do better.
  • Set personal goals (e.g., read more books, learn a new skill, get a hobby, eat healthy, be more active, etc.). Ask a friend to set a goal with you to help motivate each other.
  • Be thankful for what you have—notice the good things in your life.
  • Share your gifts and talents with others—we all have something to share, find your gift and share it.
  • Recognize the importance of self-care which includes improving your mental health and seeking out support when needed.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be a source of stress for many people, but changing your mindset about it can help you to enjoy this time of year. As the current year winds down, it is important to reflect and plan for a better year ahead. However, the impetus for change does not have to come with a new calendar year, just know you have the power to make changes in your life at any time of the year. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the holiday season!