5 Holiday Stressors and How to Deal

Jennifer Purdie
by Jennifer Purdie
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5 Holiday Stressors and How to Deal

What’s often called the most wonderful time of the year can also feel like the most depressing, stressed out, chaotic time of the year to some. If the latter better describes your holidays, the following experts provide meaningful advice on how to deal with the top holiday stressors.

Stressor: So. Much. Family.
How to deal: Try group activities.

Jill Howell, a board-certified art therapist, licensed counselor and author of “Color, Draw, Collage: Create Your Way to a Less Stressful Life,” notes that group activities are a great way to release family tension:

  • Dig up old boxes of family photos to pass around.
  • Buy an oversized coloring book and colored pencils for people to use.
  • Put out a giant piece of paper and some markers and have everyone write down what they are grateful for.
  • Deescalate stress before it even starts. Have everyone “leave it at the door” by placing paper, pens and a shredder at the entrance, and advise everyone to write down whatever is bothering them and shred it so they can focus on family fun.

Stressor: Working extra hours to meet end-of-year goals.
How to deal: Focus on the value of what you do.

Inna Khazan, PhD, a clinical psychologist and member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School says if you know you have a big deadline coming up you should make space in your life for that stress. You cannot meet a big deadline without feeling stressed. Think about the meaning and value of what you are doing — whether for yourself, company, family, etc. Knowing the value of what you are doing helps you see the stressful event as a challenge you can meet, rather than a threat you cannot cope with.

Eliminate meaningless stress and allow yourself to feel meaningful stress frees up the physical and emotional resources that would have gone to fighting it, which is not something you can control. Use those physical and emotional resources toward something you can control: self-care. Make sure you get sleep, proper nutrition, some exercise and recovery breaks.

Stressor: Feeling lonely.
How to deal: Find safe ways to connect.

Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, licensed clinical social worker and author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One,” shares tips to deal with loneliness at the holidays in a healthy way:

  • Join a turkey trot or jingle bell run. Not only will the endorphins boost your mood, you might meet some new like-minded people who are also not with their loved ones this holiday season.
  • Embrace technology if you are missing loved ones who are geographically far. Skype, FaceTime and Zoom are great ways to watch the kids open presents.
  • Reminisce. If you are missing someone who has died, tell stories and look at photos or videos. Talk about previous holidays with that person. Joke about what that person would or would not like about the holiday you are celebrating.
  • If you are estranged from someone and missing that person, be careful about going online. Loneliness can sometimes become worse if you see photos of that person enjoying the holidays with others. Even if you are not engaged with that person on social media, you might catch a glimpse of him or her through someone else’s feed.


Stressor: Drinking too many adult libations.
How to deal: Find ways to slow down.

Ariane Resnick, certified nutritionist and author of “The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking (Cocktails Without Regrets),” lists these tips to avoid drinking too much alcohol:

  • Choose stronger flavors — add extra lemon or something spicy (jalapeño, ginger, chipotle, etc.) to your cocktail so you cannot drink it as fast as you would something sweet.
  • Stick to high-quality alcohol.
  • Use a small cup.

Stressor: Too many social obligations.
How to deal: Prioritize events.

First, know that it is OK to say no to holiday activities. Elena Mikalsen, PhD, of Mikalsen Psychological Services, suggests making three lists:

  1. Obligatory holiday events you must attend or face significant consequences. This list should have no more than 3–5 events.
  2. Holiday events you should attend, but you don’t want to go to and aren’t obligated. This list should not be very long.
  3. Holiday events you enjoy that don’t take much effort. This should be your longest list.

About the Author

Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer Purdie
Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer who covers topics such as health, fitness, lifestyle and travel for both national and regional publications. She runs marathons across the world and is an Ironman finisher. She is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @jenpurdie.


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