The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes holiday stress. While each of us is unique in the situations we might face, there are some common themes when it comes to holiday stress. Below are 5 common holiday stressors with ways to cope so we and those around use can have a less stressful holiday season.
1. Family conflict
Stressor: The holidays can bring families together, but if relationships are already strained or there’s been conflict in the past, there’s a greater chance for family conflict during the holidays.
Ways to cope: Plan ahead as best as you can. If you know there’s one family member who always tries to argue for example, a solution might be to plan with someone else who will be at the gathering to avoid being alone in conversation with them. Politely excuse yourself from situations if needed. Another solution is to set boundaries around the time you’ll spend at family gatherings. Also, remember that you’re not obligated to go to any family gathering just because it’s family. If you know it will not be good for your mental health, you can decline the invitation and choose to spend your time taking care of yourself this holiday season.
Stressor: We all have different financial situations, and the holidays can bring a variety of extra expenses. So many of us feel pressure to buy expensive gifts or spend a lot on travel, but it’s incredibly stressful to spend money you know you don’t have and sets you up for worry and anxiety in January when the bills start coming due.
Ways to cope: The first step to reducing holiday financial stress is to set a budget. Start with
the amount you can comfortably spend and then decide how you want to allocate that money. Remember, just because our loved ones have different budgets, doesn’t mean we have to match it. The pressure to buy something for someone who’s bought us something can feel very overwhelming, but this is an opportunity to prioritize yourself and your needs. Consider gifts that don’t cost money, like a heartfelt letter or spending time with a loved one. It can also be helpful to communicate our budgets with those close to us, so they can offer support. And don’t forget to be supportive of those who may be struggling with financial pressures too. You may communicate with loved ones that gifts aren’t necessary and spending time with them is what you’d like during the holidays.
Stressor: Many of us struggle with travel anxiety, and holiday travel can add extra stress because there can be flight cancellations, more people travelling, weather issues, trouble getting time off work, etc. Those with specific travel anxieties, like a fear of flying, can really be struggling this time of year too.
Ways to cope: If possible, plan travel early with time in the schedule to spare. That way if there is a delay, you can still make it to your destination in time for holiday gatherings. Or plan a shorter trip that has less chance of getting delayed and save the big travel plans for later. Practicing flexibility and acceptance that we have little control over delays/cancellations is key. Be understanding if your loved ones are unable to travel because of finances, travel anxieties, difficulties taking time off work, or any other reason. And if travelling, building in a day or two between getting home and returning to work/school can be very helpful in reducing the residual effect of travel stress and allows for possible delays too.
Stressor: Food can trigger a lot of stress around the holidays. There’s often a lot of different yummy holiday food, and don’t forget that diet culture is very real and overwhelming. Food can be especially hard for those with a history of eating disorders/disorder eating issues.
Ways to cope: Please remember that food holds no moral value and we are not good or bad based on what we eat. Holiday food is meant to sustain us and to be enjoyed, just like food throughout the year. Mindfulness skills, checking in with hunger/fullness cues, and staying present with what you’re eating can be helpful solutions. You can support others and yourself by not engaging in diet talk, no food judgment talk, and not commenting on what others are eating/not eating.
Stressor: Loss and coping with grief can be particularly difficult this time of year. Remembering our loved ones and missing them throughout the holiday season can be tough to cope with.
Ways to cope: If you or someone you know is going through a loss, be kind and considerate of the feelings you or they might be experiencing. It’s normal not to feel cheerful, and allowing time to talk about the person who’s no longer here can be helpful. Also, even if you think the person doesn’t feel up to it, remember to continue to include them with invitations to holiday gatherings, giving them the choice to attend without any pressure. And for yourself if you’re going through grief and loss during the holidays, consider spending some time with others, even if you don’t feel like you’ll be cheery (it’s ok to feel however you feel). It feels good to be included; even if the person choices not to attend, it’s being remembered that can be very comforting.
This holiday season it’s important to be mindful of what everyone might be going through and take care of yourself too. While one person might be coping with the stress of seeing family, another might be dealing with intense loneliness with not having any family around. And while someone might be coping with the stress of traveling, another might be coping with the stress of not being able to travel because of finances. We're all in different situations, and with that comes different stressors. Be kind and take care throughout this season.