The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. But for many, the demands on your time, money, and mental health can be high. Here are some ideas about what to do when Christmas stress is high.

Causes of Christmas Stress

There are many causes of stress around the holiday season. Whether you are highly religious, or just enjoy the lights and time off work, Christmastime can place many demands on you and your family that can increase anxiety and make you feel stressed.

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Talk to a psychotherapist today to address stress and family conflict this holiday season.

Financial Stress Related to Holiday Spending

Money is one common source of stress around the holidays. Gift giving, parties, unpaid time off work, and end-of-the-year expenses can all put pressure on your bank account. If money is tight, it can be stressful to keep family happy, honor close friends, gather with family and still pay your bills. Many people end up going into debt to buy gifts for everyone on their list. Doing so allows your holiday stress to follow you into the new year, when those credit card payments come due.

Relational Stress Caused by Family Conflict

Many families build their annual reunions and traditions into the Christmas season because loved ones have time off work, or may already be traveling. That can add relational stress to an already busy season. Depending on your family dynamic, this could be because of:

  • Long-term, unresolved family conflict
  • Unrealistic expectations and demands on family members’ time
  • Relationship changes like divorce or separation
  • Ideological, political, or philosophical differences
  • Conflicting traditions between different parts of the family
  • Unaddressed alcoholism, eating disorders, or other mental health concerns triggered by the holidays

No matter what your family dynamic is, holiday stress can put pressure on everyone around the dinner table and can cause conflict and fights to bubble to the surface.

Blue Christmas Depression and Isolation

If you have had changes in your life in the past year, or even longer, Christmas may be a reminder of who or what you have lost. Even if you have been processing your grief, the loss of a loved one is often felt most acutely while celebrating – or missing out on – family holiday traditions. Isolation or separation from loved ones can trigger depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders when you want to be around someone who is separated from you by distance, death, or divorce. In addition to stress, this can trigger sadness, worry, and even thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

What to Do When Christmas Stress is High

Since holiday stress is so common, and its effects can be so severe, it is wise to have some coping strategies on hand. That way, you will know what to do when Christmas stress is high.

Preventing Holiday Stress Through Planning

The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” applies well to Christmas stress. There are many things you can do ahead of time to avoid holiday stress and prevent some of your worst symptoms:

  • Create lists and budgets for gift buying and holiday celebrations to avoid overpaying or going into debt
  • Consider giving handmade gifts or time together to reduce costs and stay on budget
  • Schedule holiday celebrations early and spread out get togethers
  • Set boundaries and discuss your limits with your family before the holiday stress hits
  • Delegate tasks and divide up responsibilities among family members to keep the stress from piling on one person
  • Build in time for personal relaxation and healthy habits (don’t skip your workouts!)

Planning for the holiday season ahead of time can help you avoid surprises and manage stress in a healthy way that respects your loved ones, and your own needs.

Responding to Christmas Stress and Triggers

You may have a good idea what holiday stresses will be the strongest for you. You may have done significant work to identify and address your mental health. But that won’t stop stress and triggers from happening. It just makes it easier to respond to them in healthy ways. When Christmas stress hits, you may need to:

  • Enforce boundaries with family members pressuring you to do more than you want
  • Take breaks to relieve stress and reset
  • Disengage from conflict
  • Reduce other sources of stress by taking a break from news or social media
  • Take a walk to increase positive endorphins
  • Do breathing exercises to minimize stress hormones
  • Reframe Christmas stress to avoid fixating on unreasonable expectations or desires to be perfect

By working on identifying your holiday stress triggers and planning in-the-moment coping mechanisms ahead of time, you can avoid being overwhelmed when they happen. This can increase your ability to be present during your family’s holiday traditions, while also protecting your mental health.

Managing Heightened Emotions Caused By Holiday Stress

It is important to remember that everyone is stressed during the busy holiday season, and that means they are less able to handle the everyday conflicts that arise like running late for get togethers, missing ingredients for recipes, or disagreements over politics or music preferences. You are going to have conflicts with family at some point. However, if you are aware of how stress can affect those conflicts, it is easier to manage your heightened emotions and defuse or even mediate conflicts when they do arise. Taking a mindful approach to holiday stress, and using the coping mechanisms you planned for in advance can keep conflict from ruining Christmas.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults and couples handle life stresses through short-term therapy or ongoing counseling. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.