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Managing Holiday Stress

For most people the holidays are associated with family and friends, gatherings, preparing food, hosting family, and rituals and festivities. All of that comes with expectations that induce pressure and stress. A 2021 survey found 3 in 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays–a trend that’s increasing over time. Year after year holidays feel like they begin sooner and the demands and expectations are higher. While the time of year is joyful for many, it can be a difficult and triggering season for others.

Causes Of Stress During the Holidays

Where does all of the stress come from? Here are five of the common stressors:

  • Pressure to exceed expectations- Sometimes it feels like good isn’t good enough this time of year. We put pressure on ourselves to host the perfect holiday party and exceed expectations by purchasing extravagant gifts. Stress builds as we try to find time to attend events or shop for our children and family members when there isn’t a moment to spare. All of these expectations are magnified if finances are tight. Between inflation and businesses still adjusting from Covid, money is a concern for many people and the holidays add pressure to buy despite financial constraints.

  • Grief During The Holidays- For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a very difficult time. Constant reminders of memories and old traditions can bring on waves of grief. The first holiday after losing a loved one is one of the hardest. Grief dosen’t have to be recent; loss from many years prior can resurface as can grief associated with a miscarriage or health diagnosis. All these emotional tender spots can be hit hard during the holiday time.

  • Too Much Togetherness- The holidays also come with countless celebrations, like work parties, family parties, traditions, children’s school events. it can all feel overwhelming, especially for those who are more introverted or experience social anxiety. The pressure to constantly appear joyful and present can take the joy right out of the season.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)- During the holidays, it’s colder and darker due to the shorter days. That lack of sunlight and warmth can have a big effect on many people's mood. For those who have a mental health condition, SAD can cause or worsen existing symptoms.

  • Sobriety- For those who battle issues with alcoholism and addiction, the holidays can be extremely difficult, especially since there is often a higher level of temptation during this time of year. Gatherings and celebrations often involve alcohol and it can be hard to watch everyone else partaking if a person is newly sober. Additionally, if a person is experiencing stress or grief, the desire to self-medicate with substances may be greater.

9 Ways To Manage Holiday Stress

1. Accept Imperfection- Remind yourself that things may not go as planned. You may forget to buy something at the store for your recipe. Someone might miss a flight. You could be running late to an event or you may just find you're not feeling your usual holiday spirit. It's ok because there is no such thing as the perfect holiday, so try not to put that pressure on yourself and go with the flow.

2. Plan Ahead- With the holiday season being as busy as it is, it helps to create a plan for the weeks ahead. Know what needs to get done and when. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Plan a menu and gift buying guide ahead of time. And don’t forget to plan some time to take care of yourself!

3. Say NO - Be realistic about what you are capable of and say no when you need to. Set Boundaries because you can’t do everything and trying to will lead to burnout and possible mishaps. Being intentional about how you spend your time and what you can do will make you much more present and happy about the things you can do.

4. Maintain Healthy Habits- It’s easy to overindulge during the holidays with lots of great food and treats. Try to maintain a healthy diet on the days you aren't celebrating and eat and drink in moderation. Try to get some exercise by taking a walk when you can. A quick walk around the block relieves more stress than you realize.

5. Take A Break- Know when you need a break and actually take one. Again, the goal is to avoid stress and burnout so when you feel it building, it’s time to step away. Watch a movie, play a game with your family, grab coffee with a friend, or close your eyes and take a short nap if you need it.

6. Reach Out- If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, reach out to your support system and ask for help. Learn to delegate. Maybe a family member can do the food shopping or you can give everyone an item to make or a task to do to help prepare. Ask for and accept help from others.

7. Plan Proper Self-Care- Make sure you don’t skip the things that are part of your normal self-care routine. Be sure you get proper sleep. Everything is infinitely harder and more stressful without adequate sleep. Read a book, go for a massage, meditate, exercise. Whatever you like to do, make that time for yourself.

8. Volunteer- If you’re feeling lonely during the holidays, consider volunteering. Helping others actually can make you feel better. It also forces you to get out of your head and it fosters a sense of togetherness.

9. Seek Professional Help If You Need It- If you're grieving, depressed, lonely or just overwhelmed and it’s not improving, consider seeking professional help. A therapist or support group can help you navigate challenging times and process difficult emotions that arise during the holiday season. Don’t go at it alone. Seeking support can make all the difference.

Positive Directions is here for you

If you are someone you know could use some support this holiday season, please reach out to us by calling 203-227-7644. We accept most major commercial and public insurances and offer sliding scale fees.

Our services include:

  • Individual and family counseling for adults and adolescents

  • Medication management for adults and adolescents

  • Free 1:1 peer support with a trained Peer Support Specialist

  • Free support groups include:

    • In-person weekly Alternatives To Suicide Group for 18+ (no registration required)

    • Virtual weekly High School Support Group

    • Virtual bi-weekly Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group

    • Virtual weekly SMART Recovery Groups for Adults and Family & Friends (no registration required)

    • Norwalk-specific groups: In-person SMART Teens Group, Boys' Support Group, and Girls’ Support Group for Norwalk teens only

You can register directly for these support groups on our website at

Other Resources

If you need immediate help, here are some warmlines, hotlines, and text lines you can use for support.

  • Crisis Text Line: text “HOME” to 741741 to access Mental Health America’s 24/7 free text line and connect with trained crisis counselors.

  • HERO Warm Line for First Responders: dial 844-833-4376 from 8 a.m. to midnight ET daily to speak with fellow first responders trained to offer peer support and an empathetic ear.

  • 988 - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: dial 800-273-8255 anytime to receive free and confidential support or prevention and crisis resources.

  • 211: 2-1-1 is a free, confidential information and referral service that connects people to essential health and human services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online and over the phone.

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