by: Bren Michelle Chasse, LMFT

 The holidays are officially upon us!  For many, this is an exciting time of celebration, sharing time with family, and participating in all the festivities the holidays may bring.  However, for some, the holidays mark a time of stress and overwhelm, loneliness and grief, conflict, disappointment, and emotional burnout.  As the pandemic continues, questions about how to celebrate safely might be on your mind while simultaneously acknowledging that many of us are simply bursting with excitement for the holiday season in hopes that connection, traditions, and joy will be restored.  Regardless of whether you are throwing dinner parties, shopping for gifts, or curled up on your sofa with the hot cocoa and binge-watching your favorite holiday movies, this is a season where we may easily find ourselves feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted.


Let’s explore five healthy strategies for managing holiday stress!

  1. Set healthy boundaries for yourself with others. This may feel like a tall order—particularly for those that come from families with high expectations regarding the holidays. This year, give yourself permission to say no, in an effort to protect your own mental wellness.  After the last two years of quarantine, everyone is experiencing limited bandwidth when it comes to social engagement.  Take time to think about what you want your holidays to look like this year.  What do you feel capable of committing to and where do you feel you need to draw a line?


  2. Create space for yourself to experience the full range of emotions that may come up for you.  This year, many are experiencing a heightened sense of grief due to the pandemic and loved ones lost to COVID-19.  For many, looking around the table this year may highlight the stark reality that the composition of many families has dramatically and painfully changed. It is important to acknowledge this change, find ways to honor those lost, and establish new traditions that honor their memory.  Consider making a donation or volunteering at a charity that was near and dear to their heart.


  3. Don’t overcommit yourself.  It’s important we give ourselves permission to set limits regarding our time.  Although the winter holidays are often referred to as the “season of giving,” sometimes the person we need to give to the most is ourselves.  Give to others in ways that feel good to you.  Consider how much time you spend with others this holiday season, as well as to whom you give that time.  Don’t allow others to pressure you into taking on more than you feel capable of—even if this includes tasks you have traditionally performed in the past.  Your energy is a finite resource.  Protect it so that when New Year’s rolls around you aren’t feeling so depleted you can barely muster the strength to ring in the New Year.  Instead, preserve yourself and celebrate the difficult year we have had to overcome and share in the excitement of all things to come.


  4. Set reasonable expectations regarding family events and avoid the drama.  Even our family and closest friends can disappoint us at times.  Holidays have a way of spotlighting difficult feelings from unresolved ruptures within our closest relationships.  One of the ways to avoid feelings of disappointment and sorrow, causing undue stress during the holidays, is to recognize the limitations of those individuals and to make an effort to meet them where they are. For example, if I know a family member has a history of being passive aggressive toward me, I may choose to limit how much I interact with them at a family event.  Equally important, I also know my boundary with regard to which ways I will and will not allow others to speak to me.  For example, in response to an unwanted remark I may softly reply, “I’m not willing to be spoken to in that way and if it continues, I will be excusing myself.”  You don’t have to take the bait in order to set a firm boundary.


  5. Nurture your mind, body, and soul.  Listen to your body; it is constantly communicating with you.  Check in with yourself frequently.  Have a plan for how you are going to care for yourself during this time.  If you exercise regularly, don’t cut that out simply because you have guests staying with you or the potatoes need to start soaking.  Take time to self-reflect, dream about the upcoming new year, journal, process any feelings that may get unearthed in the next few weeks, take a hot bubble bath, or engage in other mindfulness exercises.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, give yourself permission to take a step back and find your footing again. Additionally, I encourage you to try using a mindfulness app; we recommend Breathwrk, a popular, smart phone application, designed to minimize anxiety and stress simply by using the power of your breath.  Click here for a free year, on us! 


Let this holiday season be a time of joy, excitement, celebration, and connection—not a drain on your physical and emotional well-being.  Take good care—not only of yourself, but of each other.  If you find you are in need of additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Anchor Psychotherapy, Inc. at (626) 765-9944.  Wishing a very happy holidays to you and yours.