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Managing Holiday Stress

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

Countless articles and conversations focus on Holidays being a time of joy and excitement, but less spoken about is the holiday stress. We all have experienced some form of increased stress during the holidays, whether it be social obligations we try to squeeze into our schedules, responsibility to host gatherings and dinners, making the home festive by putting up decorations, creating a magical holiday memory for our children, increased spending for Holiday gifts, dinners, and outings, or dealing with difficult family members. Whew… just reading all the common stressors is overwhelming! So how do we handle the holidays while keeping calm, happy, and sane?

Step one: Acknowledge our individual Holiday strengths and weaknesses… and be at peace with them!

While some of us can make a gourmet meal others must keep the fire extinguisher handy while cooking or while some may think of the most creative and thoughtful gifts, some of us settle on a tie for our dear uncle again year after year. Regardless of where we fall on this spectrum; it is helpful to accept our strengths and shortcomings, be gentle with ourselves about it, and understand that no one can do everything perfectly. Let’s be honest, most of us have busy lives with multiple responsibilities to begin with. Adding Holiday tasks on top of our lives sometimes causes people to shudder at the mere mention of the season because it’s a lot of work and we struggle with the ability to say no. No is an answer within itself that every person is entitled to give. No, I cannot host dinner at my house this year. No, I cannot attend the party. No, I cannot hang 15 balls of mistletoe in my home. No, I cannot stay up until 4am the night before a Holiday wrapping gifts. While we may want to be able to do everything and get it right, it is simply not possible! We have to shift our beliefs around saying no! It’s ok to set boundaries, to communicate limits, and to turn down invites and events. Although it may feel like it at times, saying no is not going to ruin our family’s Holiday!

What will taint our Holidays is being tired, overwhelmed, stressed, strained, and irritable. All these emotions cause us to build resentment towards what is intended to be fun and joyous experiences with loved ones. Why do we struggle with saying no and setting boundaries? The easy answer is guilt. We feel guilty for disappointing someone, so we push and overextend ourselves. I challenge you to think back to a time during a Holiday where you took on more than you should or attempted something you struggle with, and imagine how things would have gone differently if you just said no. Realistically speaking, would have saying no had that big of impact? Part of the challenge is that when we feel guilty, we often think that means we are doing something wrong. Recognize that it is instead an instinctive response to thinking we may be letting others down. You can feel twisted up inside and still make the decision that supports your well being, even if others aren’t happy with the choice!

Step two: Delegate tasks!

Now that we have acknowledged what we are capable of, we must recognize that we need help to do the things we aren’t able to do. Maybe that means hiring a cleaning person, asking another family member to help with the Holiday meal, or talking to our spouse about splitting up the extra tasks of the season. It’s ok to ask for help or hire help if need be. We are not missing out on the season by not doing it all or doing it all ourselves. It is not one person’s sole responsibility to make the season bright for their entire family.

Step three: Set realistic expectations!

We tend to create a scene in our minds of how an event will go and when it doesn’t go as planned, we feel defeated. Let’s set a familiar scene… going to get pictures with Santa. We have scoured the internet to find a location with the best-looking Santa and aesthetically pleasing surroundings, made an appointment and are excited for the adorable photos to commemorate the Holiday. However, by the time you get to Santa, your baby is sleeping and going to cry when woken and approached by the jolly man in the red suit, your child has spilled a juice box on his or her new dress, and the oldest is claiming this is stupid. Unless you have already mastered the ability to say no, you are likely already tired, overwhelmed, and stressed standing in line silently wondering why you can’t just have one happy Holiday experience. On the verge of threatening to take screen time from your oldest naysayer, trying to use a wet wipe on your little one’s stained dress, and coaxing the baby awake in the most soothing manner, you are likely to become disappointed by the looming reality that this picture may not be Instagram or Holiday card worthy. When we don’t create expectations ahead of time, we increase the risk of being disappointed. Living in the moment is something that we tend to not have time for in the current day but is important to our well being. If something goes wrong or not as planned, it’s ok because that is the reality of the situation. Take a deep breathe, collect your thoughts, and remember why you are doing this event in the first place. Sometimes we must find the humor in the most difficult situations and roll with the reality we are experiencing because those are the true memories that we will someday laugh about.

Step four: Remember that children also experience Holiday stress!

While it is an exciting time of year for most children, they absorb the impact of the stress that their caregivers experience like a sponge. Some signs to look out for are new or increased behavior issues, becoming easily emotional, regression to younger behaviors, nervous behaviors, or withdrawal. Speak with your children about what you notice, giving them a safe space to talk about their feelings. Try to keep consistent routines because while they may not always like them, children rely on them. Holidays often disrupt regular daily lives and children tow along to Holiday events, long days of shopping and traveling to family and friends. Keeping some form of structure during this time will help decrease meltdowns due to being overwhelmed or increased hyperactivity or overstimulation from excitement. As well, even the fun things like eating more treats at grandma’s or staying up late to attend a party can impact your child’s mood. Try to pack healthy snacks and create “time outs” for both your child and you to rest and relax during the season. Try to keep some normalcy in your child’s life such as asking your child to choose an item of comfort from home to bring with them during travel or prioritizing even small family Holiday traditions.

Step five: The best Holiday gift we can give ourselves is a break, both mental and physical!

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