Holiday Stress


How do we keep the stress as low as possible during the holiday season?

We’ve all felt it. That stress the seeps in right around mid-November. Expectations of others, and ourselves.  Gifts to purchase with money that just isn’t available.  Meals to plan and cook.

A few tips may help.

1. Write down all the things you really like about the holiday season. For me, it’s the music, focusing on spiritual meaningfulness, watching Christmas movies, and enjoying holiday-specific foods and drinks. Maybe you enjoy the decorations, lights, parties and seeing family. Maybe not. Which leads me to step two.

2. Write down all the things you dislike about the holiday season. For me, it includes shopping at malls, commercialism, crowds, washing my special dishes by hand, and perceived expectations from others. Maybe you dislike the wrapping of gifts, cooking everything for a big meal, or seeing difficult family members.

3. Write down how you can improve the enjoyment this year. For me, it’s watching lots of holiday movies, listening to Christmas music and anticipating the turkey and cranberries I’m planning on cooking. Maybe you want to delegate some of the cooking to family and friends. Maybe you’d pay a neighbor kid to wrap your gifts, or include attending a Christmas Eve service in your plans.

4.  Keep some healthy routines.  It’s amazing how some people disregard their basic need for sleep, or eating healthy, or rest during the holidays.  Perhaps take a day off of work, or plan to minimize the ways that you shop.  (I’m thinking online is the way to go this year).  Keep exercising.  See your friends, and attend important things, like your 12-step meetings, or weekly church service.  Get some sleep.

5.  Let go of expectations of others. Your thoughts may or may not be true. If you are feeling pressure, it is in your mind, and the other person may not view the situation as important as you think. Expectations are only that. Expectations. If someone is disappointed because of your choices, that is their problem. Especially if your choices are much healthier than their expectations of you.

For example, let’s say you’re on a new path of clean and sober living. In the past, Aunt Hilda has always served wine at dinner. You may be feeling like you have to drink the wine, so as not to upset Aunt Hilda. On the other hand, you have learned over the past 11 months that even one glass of alcohol will create problems in your life. Your sponsor may suggest you don’t go to the party at Aunt Hilda’s house. That’s one idea. Another is to talk to her, maybe days or weeks before the party, to ask if it’s okay to bring your own sparkling cranberry juice to the party, to share. If she asks why, you can politely and respectfully explain your desire to stay away from alcohol. You can mention that you are not expecting her to get rid of serving alcohol at her party, but that you’d like an alternative, and would be happy to share it with other guests. Aunt Hilda may be initially disappointed, but, if she absolutely insists that you drink wine, then you politely un-invite yourself.  Let go of her negative reactions, and keep your sobriety.

Lowering stress is all about boundaries in the holiday season. You cannot make everyone happy. How about letting go of that unrealistic goal, and focusing on creating your meaningful holiday? If you want to “keep Christ in Christmas,” perhaps you could attend a Christmas Eve service, or participate in some serving opportunities at your church or in your town. If your plans to serve up a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless mean you are unable to stay all 9 hours at your grandparents’ house, so be it. Maybe you can leave after 4 hours, to go serve.  It’s always best to manage your grandparents’ expectations long before the event, so perhaps a good phone call is required, keeping things calm and respectful, of course.

To lower your own holiday stress this season, focus on what makes it special for you. Not others. Let go of trying to create the “perfect” holiday, because it doesn’t exist. Focus on your own goals, ask for help, delegate tasks, and let go of expectations (yours and others). Look for the “gray” areas, not the black and white thinking of perfectionism.

If you would like to learn more about lowering your stress, and get some individual counseling, please contact me directly at 847-962-5234.

Truly, keep focused on the important things:  Peace on earth, good will toward men. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year.

anxiety resources

helpful websites

  • TroubledWith: Stress
    Excellent collection of resources on dealing with anxiety disorders, as well as when and how to seek treatment.
  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
    National, non-profit membership organization dedicated to informing the public, healthcare professionals and legislators about anxiety disorders, promote the early diagnosis, treatment and cure of anxiety disorders, and improve the lives of the people who suffer from them.
  • Freedom From Fear
    National not-for-profit mental health advocacy association developed to impact, in a positive way, the lives of all those affected by anxiety, depressive and related disorders through advocacy, education, research and community support.