5 Common Causes Of Holiday Stress — And How to Cope With Them

The holidays are almost upon us, and while this time of year is exciting and joyous, it can also be downright demanding. Between holiday parties, family gatherings, and other commitments — or perhaps the absence of such — we often wind up feeling stressed, depressed, or burnt out by the time New Year’s Day hits. If you’re someone who struggles around the holidays, check out these common complaints and practical strategies for managing them.

1. “I have too many obligations.”

The holidays are a time of celebrations: hosting and attending parties, seeing family and friends from out of town, and excess spending. Though enjoyable, these events can cause emotional strain. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, it’s time to pause and be more deliberate with how you spend your time and money. Don’t feel pressure to attend every single event or buy everyone in your family an expensive gift. If your gift list is long, consider baking something homemade. Most importantly, set boundaries with your commitments; be realistic with what you can and cannot attend, and give yourself permission to say no to some things.

2. “My family makes me crazy.”

Holidays are often synonymous with concentrated amounts of family time. For anyone with challenging family dynamics, this can spike your stress and anxiety levels. First, know that this is normal, and that many people experience varying degrees of discomfort around their family. Prepare yourself emotionally by setting aside a few minutes before a family event for grounded breathing, which will calm your nervous system and put you in the best possible headspace before entering into a stressful situation. It may also help to have an exit strategy in place if things become too chaotic to tolerate.  

3. “I’m lonely.”

On the flip side, this time of year has a tendency to make us acutely aware of what we feel we are lacking, whether that is a supportive family, local friends, or a romantic partner. Make sure you put in effort with the relationships that you do have, and reach out to others to prevent feeling isolated. Carve out time for cozy evenings with friends, attending community events, or volunteering. Connecting with people is the optimal way to combat loneliness.  

4. “This year will be different.”

There are endless ways in which we subconsciously create expectations for how things should be around this time of year. This includes expectations for ourselves (“I’m going to have the best Christmas vacation ever!”), as well as for others (“My family won’t say or do anything upsetting this time.”) I call this the ‘this year will be different’ trap. To avoid feeling chronically disappointed, reevaluate and moderate your expectations. Practice the difficult task of accepting family members and friends for how they are, rather then using the holidays as a time to air out pent-up grievances.

5. “I’m exhausted.”

Not only do we overextend ourselves during this time of year, but we also tend to indulge in unhealthy food and alcohol. This can become problematic since high-sugar foods, as well as alcohol, have a direct impact on our mood, sleep, and energy levels. Experiment with limiting your alcohol intake at parties, and implement intentional, mindful eating habits whenever possible. Try cooking at home a few nights a week when you don’t have outside events to attend in order to give your body a chance to reset.

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