Thought Leadership

Holiday Stress Management Tips from a Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The holiday season is here! This time of year is busy for many of us, often accompanied by increased stress and anxiety surrounding social gatherings, finances, work and familial obligations. We sought out holiday stress management tips to help us thrive. 

It can be difficult to prioritize our mental wellbeing during this time of year. That’s especially true if you’re navigating change, loss, or tense social dynamics within their lives.  

Sara Fier, PhD, LP, CMPC, Professor and Chair of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department at NWHSU, shares some common holiday stressors. She also gave us management strategies to bring the most joy to the holiday season while caring for ourselves: 

Holiday stress factor #1: How can I be two places at the same time? 

We often try to cram too many social activities into a short period of time. Families, extended families, and friends all want to get together during the holidays.

When significant others and blended families are within the circle of people we want to spend time with, or when significant travel is involved, things become even more complicated. In addition, life doesn’t stop for the holidays. Many NWHSU students are employed in health care settings, and people still need care during the holidays. Holiday gatherings may be scheduled during times you need to work (or sleep!).  

Stress management strategy #1

For this year, plans are likely already in place, so pace yourself as necessary. You may need to spend the holidays with one side of the family this year and the other side next year. Or one holiday with one family and another holiday with another family. After the holidays, consider discussing with your family the possibility of holding extended family get togethers at another time, such as a summer picnic. In many situations, the holiday can be celebrated whenever you are together.  

Holiday stress factor #2: Everything is so expensive! 

From food and beverages to gifts to travel costs, holiday expenses add up in a hurry.  

Stress management strategy #2

Sometimes the most meaningful gifts can be something other than a purchased item. Your gift for grandma might be bringing a meal to her house once per month. For mom, it could bepainting her kitchen. Your gift for dad might be helping him organize the garage man cave that he has always wanted.  

Holiday stress factor #3: Holiday events are too stressful! 

Holiday events often bring together family and others who may only see each other once a year. And maybe they don’t get along all that well. When holiday stress and substance use is added to the situation, disagreements (and worse) can occur.  

Stress management strategy #3

Avoid or limit substance use if you know you will be in a stressful situation. Avoid potentially aggravating topics such as religion, politics, and major social issues if you know people have strongly differing opinions.  

Bringing Your Best Self to the Party

Ultimately, the best gift you can give yourself and others is to bring your best self to holiday gatherings. Here are some additional tips to help you do that.  

  • Maintain your self-care routine when possible: exercise, stretching, nutrition, sleep, hydration. 
  • Find the sun. When the sun is out, spend some time in it. Bundle up and take a walk. Study for finals sitting by the window where the sun is shining. Put a daylight simulator alarm clock on your holiday gift with list. 
  • Mentally prepare yourself for holiday gatherings in advance. Think about who will be there, what you’ll be doing, and potential challenges. Perhaps bringing a board game or a photo album will help maintain positive interaction. Planning a favorite family recipe exchange or Minute to Win It event may help avoid stressful conversations.  
  • Breathe. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can help moderate stress. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate and calming thoughts. Inhale deeply through your nose. Feel the air expand your lower lungs in addition to your upper lungs. Exhale through your mouth, slowly, gently observing the air leave your lungs and body. Repeat. It’s best to practice this daily. It can be used anytime, anywhere.  
  • Moderate negative thoughts. When you find yourself negatively thinking such as, “Extended family gatherings are always so loud and chaotic”, don’t stop with the negative thought. Add in something more positive such as, “And yet, cousin Gina will be there, and I haven’t seen her in five years” or “And yet, it’s the one time of the year that I get to eat Aunt Maria’s chicken and dumpling soup.”  

Stay safe and warm this holiday season. We at NWHSU wish you a season full of gratitude, rest, and joy. Best wishes in 2024!  

Story by Kit Harlow, Chiropractic Student