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  • Melanie Lopes, MFT

12 Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

Are you feeling anxious about the upcoming holidays? You’re not alone. This time of year comes with a lot of expectations and bringing family members together can sometimes stir up family dynamics and other issues which can be really stressful.

This post offers some tips for how to navigate the holidays and take care of yourself, to not only help you cope with the stress, but also to help bring some joy and satisfaction into it as well.

If you’re looking for some ideas for how to cope with holiday stress, the best thing to do is to pay attention to your needs and come up with a plan for before, during, and after any stressful events:

  • Doing something enjoyable or soothing right before an event or gathering puts you in a better head space and allows you to relax, rather than going into the event already stressed, which only makes it worse.

  • Taking the time during the event to calm yourself or unwind, prevents stress and tension from building up to unbearable levels.

  • And remembering to do something for yourself after the event allows you to shake off any stress and move forward in a positive direction.

Here are some ideas to consider:

1. Treat yourself to something you enjoy. The season of giving is mostly focused on giving to others, which is a wonderful thing, but in the process it becomes easy to forget to take care of yourself. Take the time to do something enjoyable or soothing - listen to or play your favorite music, cook, buy your favorite dessert, get yourself a gift, go for a walk, enjoy a nice meal, go see some holiday lights, watch your favorite movie, etc. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or costly, it could be something simple as long as you're putting in the time and effort to do something for YOU.

2. Take a time out. If you start to notice tension and anxiety rising, take a time out and give yourself a break - get some fresh air, take some deep breaths, step into another room for a few minutes, or find a way to spend a little time alone to regroup.

3. Practice gratitude. Taking note of the things that you are grateful for is a good way to shift your focus away from the negative. It can help bring some much-needed perspective and balance so you don’t head into a downward spiral of negativity, which only leads to more discomfort and frustration.

4. Be selective about who you interact with most. Move toward those who you enjoy or who are, at the very least, neutral to be around. Limit your time with those who are more challenging.

5. Write it down. Take some time to write out your thoughts and feelings. This can help you get some clarity and it also helps with releasing some of the tension so that it doesn’t build up and come bursting out.

6. Laugh or do something playful. This can help relieve some tension and move you into a more joyful state so you’re not taking everything so seriously. Play a game, go ice skating, play with a child, sing out loud, watch a funny movie, jump in a leaf pile, or play in the snow.

7. Move your body. Get some exercise or simply go for a walk. Movement is a great stress reliever and a good excuse to step away for a bit. It's particularly helpful for relieving some of the symptoms of anxiety like muscle tension and restlessness.

8. Practice being present and noticing the details. Slow down and focus in on all the details of your environment and take a mental inventory of all that you are observing. This is helpful especially when your head is spinning with lots of thoughts or when you feel overwhelmed. It helps ground you and refocus your mind.

**If possible, focus in on the things you enjoy or appreciate (even the tiniest things like the flicker of a candle or a smile on a child’s face) and really let yourself take it in. When you take in the good in this way it helps generate positive feelings which can be soothing and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

9. Strategize with your partner or other friends or family members. Perhaps you can come up with a plan for how to move on from difficult conversations or maybe you even have an exit strategy – a cue for knowing when it’s time to leave or a predetermined time when you’ll leave. It helps to have a team on the same page!

10. Do something different. It’s easy to get caught up in old patterns, especially with family, and if everyone is doing the same things year after year, the outcome will be the same. See if there is something you can do differently. Again, it doesn’t have to be big, but just something to shift the dynamic. Maybe you say something kind or do something for someone who wouldn’t expect it or you change the subject instead of getting into the same old argument. Sometimes the littlest change can have a ripple effect.

11. Coach yourself through it. Give yourself a pep talk and see if there is a different way to view the situation that’s realistic and supportive. This doesn't mean that you need to paint a rosy picture and be in denial about a stressful situation. But, if you go into an event thinking it will be bad, it probably will be.

Rather than thinking: “This is going to be awful, I can’t wait until it’s over.” Try telling yourself something like: “This is probably going to be uncomfortable and I’ll get through it or I’m going to make the most of it.” This allows you to acknowledge and accept the challenge that lies ahead and gives you a chance to comfort yourself with the reminder that you’ll make it through.

12. Get support. Sometimes you need a little extra help to support your through the challenges that come with the holidays, and that’s ok. Talk it over with someone you trust or seek professional help.


Whether you try one or all of these ideas, taking the time to try something different and take care of yourself is worth it. You might not be able to create a completely stress-free holiday season but making the effort to better manage your stress sets a good tone and gets you started on a path toward change as you head in to the new year.

Best wishes and happy holidays!

Post written by Melanie Lopes, MFT.


If you are looking for additional support for managing stress, therapy can help. Feel free to contact me and we can set up an appointment.

Call Melanie Lopes, MFT at 415-295-2940 or send me an email.


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