Not Feeling So Merry? Here’s How to Cope with Holiday Stress

By Lauren Presutti

It’s okay if you’re not feeling so merry this time of year. Many of us struggle with our mental health around the holiday season. Even though we are “supposed to be” enjoying the season of giving, sometimes the best thing we can do is give ourselves a break. Be gentle with yourself and remember that you’re only human. You don’t need to measure up to the expectations of the rest of the world. You are allowed to be exactly as you are. If you’re feeling sad, it’s okay to be sad. If you’re feeling frustrated, it’s okay to be frustrated. With careful planning and attention to coping skills, it’s possible to survive the holidays and minimize your pain. Let’s talk about how you can prepare for the holidays and maintain your mental wellness at the same time.

First, pay attention to your feelings, especially when you’re holding mixed emotions. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel a variety of different feelings even if they seem to contradict each other. You’re allowed to feel both happy and sad at the same time. Take time to journal about your feelings, talk about it with someone you trust, or attend a support group. Allow yourself the space for your emotions to be heard. Spend time thinking, reflecting, and embracing however you feel.

Say “no” to things that you don’t want to do. It’s okay to skip a party invitation or decide not to drink alcohol at a family gathering. You’re allowed to decline invitations or traditions, even if your lack of participation is disappointing for others. It’s not your job to please everyone. Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself. Remember that you are worthy of self-compassion and the most important thing you can do for yourself is to nurture yourself in whatever ways you need. Sometimes that means protecting yourself and setting boundaries.

Don’t go over the top (unless you want to). Most of us have trouble setting social boundaries, but did you know that many people also struggle with financial boundaries? And boundaries related to gift-giving? If you’re already feeling stressed about shopping (not knowing what to purchase, not knowing how much to spend, feeling overwhelmed about your budget, etc.), think about the real meaning of giving gifts. Usually, gift-giving is about showing someone that you care about them. But if holiday shopping is so stressful that you don’t even enjoy the experience, consider doing something else to show someone you care about them. Bake something. Enjoy a day of quality time together. Write a letter. Make a slideshow. Volunteer to help with a home project. There are MANY ways to show someone that you care about them.

Prepare for stress in advance. If your family is full of diverse personalities, there are probably going to be some disagreements around the holiday season. Consider how much time you want to spend bickering. Is it worth it? Think about if there are any plans or decisions you can make in advance to avoid last-minute family debates that could lead to conflicts. Try to anticipate any conflicts before coming together as a family. Is there anything you can do in advance to guard against feelings getting hurt? Try to resist the urge to make the holidays perfect for everyone. Just enjoy things as much as you can and don’t expect things to be perfect.

Plan something soothing for after the holidays that you can look forward to. Having something to look forward to sounds simple but it may be just what you need to focus on during the middle of a stressful holiday experience. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. If you’re an introvert, it may just be some alone time that you’re looking forward to. Try to visualize how that will look for you so you can focus on that upcoming experience.

Follow a routine that includes time for self-care. Everybody’s self-care will be unique to them. Some people like to exercise, engage in arts or crafts, be social with friends, enjoy comfort food, listen to music, catch up on sleep, play video games, read books, or play an instrument for self-care. Maybe you like to watch movies in bed or maybe you like to go jogging in the mornings. What does your self-care look like for you? Try to maintain time for these activities in your daily routine even though your schedule might be a bit chaotic around the holidays.

Practicing gratitude is also highly effective for coping through challenging moments. It’s important to validate our negative feelings, but we also want to try to shift toward a mindset of gratitude so that we can embrace the things we find appreciation in. Try writing down a few things every day that you feel grateful for. It’s easy to forget about the little things, so take time to notice every silver lining. Focusing on our gratitude can help ease some of our frustrations, especially around the holiday season.

However you celebrate, remember that you are not alone. The holiday season can feel a little rocky for many people but the holidays don’t last forever. You can get through this! Try to enjoy every little moment that brings you comfort. If you need to talk, we are here for you. Maybe you want to give yourself the gift of therapy this year. We all need a safe space to talk about things from time to time, so if you’re struggling with holiday stress, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would be honored to support you.

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If you have questions or if we can be a resource for you, please don’t hesitate to call or text us at (248) 717-1232 or email lauren@riveroakspsychology.com to schedule an online counseling appointment. Your mental health matters.