Dealing With Holiday Stress

« Back to articles

You’re not alone. ‘Tis the season to be stressed out.


The major cause of holiday stress is expectations. Those expectations usually revolve around family and financial issues. And to top it off, time crunches often bring the stress to the surface.

It sounds like your husband either has great childhood memories of the holidays or has a nerves-of-steel tolerance to stress. He’s a rare commodity. Most of us have unfulfilled expectations and unspoken family issues that often makes getting together with extended family awkward. It may be hard for you to vocalize your feelings, but this is likely part of what underlies all the stress you’re experiencing.

One way to reduce the emotion of the actual day and thereby the pressure leading up to it is to lower your expectations. Look forward to the gathering hoping to touch base with few family members, but don’t expect to see a strained relationship resolved. In some cases, even expecting to connect on some deeper level is unrealistic. Try to enjoy being in the moment. Focus on what’s happening now and don’t allow the past – or the future to destroy this point in time. Look at the things you can see: the food, the gifts, the children and try to keep you mind off any unseen issues.

Life isn’t as perfect as Hallmark card. Don’t expect your holiday to look like a remake of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Try to lower your expectations.

The other side, but somewhat inter-related is financial stress. You may find yourself going deeper in debt each year trying to please others. You may spend more than you know you should trying to get some perfect gift. It’s a good idea to concentrate not so much on what you give but how you give. For instance a plate of cookies can be more meaningful because you took the time and care to bake them than a color TV.

The value of a gift isn’t price tag. That kind of feeling will go away about a half an hour after it’s given. It’s not how much the gift cost, but what you want to say to that person. For instance, “I care about you” can be said as well with a plate of homemade cookies as ten cases of Mrs. Field’s.

Don’t expect to give or get the perfect gift. You can end up very disappointed.

A quick aside: Perhaps you or others reading this column face another holiday problem – holiday depression. Often holiday depression happens to people who are already struggling with depression. The reason holiday depression seems so much stronger is that the stress of the season tends to heighten emotions. Be sure to have a plan to deal with it, or seek the help of a professional to manage it.

Finally, with all the time commitments of the holidays, you may find you’re running yourself ragged. You probably aren’t prepared for the holidays this year. Most people aren’t. Maybe it’s time to start planning for next year. Perhaps you need to alternate family gatherings next year so you aren’t expected at your families and your husband’s on the same day.

And maybe you should draw names so you don’t have to run around getting gifts for everyone and you can concentrate on getting one very special gift. Or maybe you just need to clear your calendar to make time for yourself. That’s O.K., too.

Another great stress reducer is to take a moment to ponder the spiritual significance of the season. It can help keep things in perspective.

Additional Resources: ADHD