Managing Stress over the Holiday Season

Managing Stress over the Holiday Season

Holidays can be hard.

There are those of us who look forward to a break from the usual routine to spend time with family and friends. But for some of us, this wintry season signals a pattern of unresolved pain, loneliness, or family conflict. And this year, those signals might be crying out even louder than usual.

So how can we make it through this unconventional holiday season when feeling not-so-merry-and-bright?

First, plan ahead.

Let’s try for some preventative self-care! Self-care is about knowing and attending to yourself and your own needs, so it can look different for everyone. Examples could be: journaling about realistic expectations, happy memories, or hopes for the season; walking outside with an animal or human supporter; making a plan with yourself and your household so everyone knows what to expect; prioritizing activities so that you can say no to draining yourself; or fueling yourself with balanced nutrition, fulfilling exercise, and a solid sleep schedule.

We are so easily pulled away from paying attention to ourselves over the holidays, which is why planning ahead is key. Focus on the meaning behind the actions you are taking for yourself, as “self-care” can be diluted into a “treat yourself” quick fix. It is courageous to listen to your own needs (and act on them!), but taking this initial step can make a positive difference in your holiday mindset moving forward.

Be in the moment.

Once you’re in the thick of virtual holiday activities is the time to practice some mindfulness. This means, take that attentiveness you’ve been cultivating and listen to yourself in the midst of potential chaos.

Try some of these techniques:

  • Breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, hold your breath at the top, then exhale for 6 seconds. Close your eyes if that feels right. Continue these breaths until your heart rate slows and you feel (even slightly) more calm.
  • Notice 5 things in the room that are the same color. Now listen to 4 distinct sounds in the room. Are there 3 different things you could touch in this space? How about 2 things you can smell? Now pick out one thing you can taste in this moment. This is called grounding, and it can help center you back into your body if you notice yourself drifting.
  • Put your hands on your lap and squeeze them into fists. Pretend you are holding lemons and try to squeeze all the juice out of them that you can for 5 seconds. Now let the lemons go. Notice how it feels to release some of that tension! Try squeezing then releasing the muscles where you carry your stress (maybe your shoulders, legs, or stomach).
  • Are you able to change your environment? Leaving a noisy or stressful video or phone call for a 5 minute walk can give you the space to honor your thoughts and feelings.

These are easy to learn but they can be challenging to implement when triggered. If one technique isn’t doing the trick, try another one. Return to yourself in this moment, and be present with you.


Once you’ve made it through those predetermined expectations set by your household, reflect on how those experiences felt to you. Can you find moments of joy within a chaotic memory? Were you able to use some grounding techniques when you noticed a triggering situation? Did you say no to an obligation that normally would have left you drained? Even if you simply noticed a trigger or tried to pay attention to your feelings, you’ve made a step forward!

This past year has been unprecedented and unpredictable, so try your best to notice pockets of stability within this unusual situation. Practice gratitude for yourself and the ways you showed up for you. It’s not easy to establish household boundaries and truly check in with your thoughts and emotions, but it might help this holiday season feel more manageable.

And if you’re struggling to manage any of the changing responsibilities, expectations, routines, and lifestyles that this year has thrown at us, a therapist at The Family Therapy Place would love to help support you through this.

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