If You Dread the Holiday Season, I Have Good News

There are endless reasons as to why you might hate the holidays. It can be the most wonderful, yet the most stressful, time of the year! Holiday stress can feel very overwhelming at times, because it doesn’t just occur on the actual day – there are months of anticipation leading up.

Maybe you are stuck being around relatives who have very different beliefs than you do, and having conversations with them brings up feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and even rage.

Or you could have a bit too much time off of work, and don’t know what you’re going to do with all of that freedom and stillness. 

If you’ve lost someone close to you, it’s common for feelings of sadness and grief to come up around the holidays. This doesn’t just include losing someone who’s died. If you’ve gone through a breakup, a move away from friends/family, or are without a significant other, holiday stress can actually turn into very intense feelings of loneliness.

But the good news about Holiday stress is that it’s acute – meaning it’s amplified during a short period of time, but will eventually subside.

The other good news is you can prepare yourself to handle this acute stress!

I’ve also put together a few ideas that may help you to move through this season knowing you can handle it with a bit more inner peace.

1. Be Mindful of Social Media Usage

This is something to remember all year round! But because many people have so much downtime around the holidays, it’s easier to get sucked into the social media vortex of scrolling aimlessly forever. Try to be extra mindful of your usage around this time of year. Put your phone in a drawer, set a time limit on your apps, or be very intentional about doing other things. Which brings me to….

2. Let Your Inner Child Come Out

What were the holidays like for you as a kid? Did this time of year feel magical? Did you get excited about seeing all of the Christmas lights, or baking cookies, or lighting the menorah?

Even if you’re not religious, or the holidays have always been a tough time of year for you, what did you like to do as a kid in general? Play with arts and crafts? Explore the woods? Read books?

If you get some downtime during the holiday season, explore a new hobby. And you can start by doing those things that used to bring you joy when you were younger.

3. Create Boundaries to Prevent Holiday Stress

Holiday time usually involves family time. And family time can usually lead to doing things you don’t want to do, being with people you don’t want to be with, and buying gifts for people you don’t want to spend money on. 

It can be helpful to take some time reflecting in advance on how you want to set boundaries this year. Then, plan out what you might say to communicate those boundaries. Simple statements such as:

“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to make it this year.”

“No thank you, I don’t want to do that.”

And I know – setting boundaries is a lot easier said than done. When you actually try to put them into practice, they take some getting used to.

You can go slow. Test out the waters. And remember, you have the right to decide what you will and will not do.

Something that helps me is to remember that the way a person reacts to your choices is about them, not you. 

4. Visit Your Happy Place

I keep a collection of “happy places” in my mind to help me stay centered during challenging times. A lot of these places involve nature, and invoke feelings of calm, gratitude, spaciousness, etc. I take time to really absorb the moment and pay attention to how I feel when I’m actually in a place like this, so I can store it in my brain and come back to it at a later time.

What is a happy place you can go to in your mind to feel more cool, calm, and collected? (For me, it’s laying on the beach in Costa Rica, biking through the forest in Amsterdam, even snuggling with my cat). Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and experience the scene with all of your senses.

5. Practice Self-Compassion

Self-awareness breeds self-compassion. To avoid holiday stress, take time to check in with how you’re feeling.

Experience the sensations in your body. Reflect on what those sensations are trying to tell you, without judgment. When those sensations feel overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break from family, write in a journal, find a safe space to feel sad, go for a walk, call a friend and vent, etc. Do what you have to do to take care of yourself.

6. Giving Back is the Antidote to Sadness

One of the most powerful ways you can alleviate feelings of sadness around the holidays is to do something kind for someone in need. This could be as simple as contributing to your workplace toy donation box, or as immersive as volunteering at a food bank. You can even find a charity that will provide real wish lists from children who would otherwise go without anything around the holidays. Studies have shown that when people put energy towards helping others, activity in the amygdala is lowered (AKA stress levels go down).

If feelings and emotions are something you struggle with, I recommend you download my guide, Feelings 101.

Did any of these ideas resonate with you? If so, let me know which one you plan to try out by leaving a comment, or getting in touch. My hope for you is that you are able to experience at least a few moments of joy this holiday season.


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About the author:

Paige Rechtman is a licensed psychotherapist based in Brooklyn, NY. She helps treat young professionals with anxiety, despression, and self-esteem issues.

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