When the Turkeys Come Home to Roost: handling holiday stress.

Between now and the end of January, there will be at least 50 holidays celebrated around the world.  If you’re looking forward to this three month period of cultural, religious, spiritual, and secular holidays, your head is probably awash in the glow of the expectation of family, food, friends, and relaxation.  For a significant portion of the population though, this extended holiday period brings to mind images of familial strife, stress, and dread.  If you fall into the latter category, read on to learn more about common holiday stressors and helpful hints for coping.

  • Increased social pressure:  What’s meant to be a celebration can quickly turn into an exercise in endurance.  It seems like everyone is planning something, and you’re expected to be front and center toting a cake.  Remember that you don’t have to say yes to everything.  Take stock of the events that you are able to reasonably manage, and say a polite no thank you to those you cannot.
  • Warring factions:  One of the fears that I often hear expressed by both clients and friends during the holidays is concern about fighting relatives.  What do you do if you find yourself in the middle of a combative holiday dinner?  Don’t allow yourself to be sucked in!  Try to avoid taking sides, and focus on what’s around you, what you are enjoying about the holidays, whether it’s the fragrant candles on the table, or the chocolate cake on your plate.  If you find yourself in a position where you must become involved, you’ll find it helpful to communicate assertively.    
  • Don’t over (or UNDER) indulge:  Do you find yourself binge eating or drinking over the holidays because it’s the only time that you allow yourself to indulge in tasty treats?  Conversely, do you restrict so much over the holidays because you worry so much about overindulging that you obsess over all of the food you won’t allow yourself to enjoy?  The trick here is finding balance.  If you tell yourself that the holidays are the only times you’re allowed to eat cake, chances are you’re going to binge on cake.  Eat and drink in moderation, your body and mind will thank you. Click here for more information about how mindful eating might help!
  • Changes in routine:  School schedules change, work schedules change, social obligations increase, eating and drinking patterns become more erratic; all of these changes in routine can wreck havoc on your mood.  Try to go back to basics here; attempt to maintain regular eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.  A little proactive effort can do wonders for your mood as you run the holiday marathon.
  • The Winter Blues:  Some people are more prone to depression (often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, when the days get shorter and the temperatures drop. Seasonal changes in mood make it even more difficult to handle the holiday hassle. Check out my previous blog post on How to Keep Your Mood From Falling with the Autumn Leaves to learn how you can make simple changes to manage to your mood during the long evenings ahead.
  • Grief and loss:  Holiday times aren’t joyous occasions for everyone.  Perhaps you’re struggling with a loss, and the holiday period magnifies this.  Maybe you don’t have one thousand things to do, and the holidays are a particularly lonely time for you. It can be challenging to acknowledge that these feelings are normal and acceptable, especially when it appears that everyone around you is celebrating.  Remember to allow yourself to feel your feelings, and plan to take extra good care of yourself during this time.  Click here to learn more about how to create a self care routine.

Whether joyous or difficult, holiday time creates stress for everyone.  Make small changes now to reduce your stress levels before they become overwhelming.  What do you do to manage your holiday stress?  Comment below!

Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected].  Visit Dr. Scrivani’s  iTherapy webpage to learn more.

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