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Holiday Stress

Brianna White, LMSW, has a passion for normalizing conversations about mental health and making mental health resources readily available to those in need. Brianna currently works as a therapist with Tanager Place’s school based therapy program. 

The smell of a home cooked meal, the sounds of laughter, the sight of a young child’s face lighting up with delight – the holidays are full of the kind of things that we dream (or drool) about all year long. The holidays can give us something to look forward to – but what if all of that feels more like overwhelming stress? The American Psychological Association identifies sources of holiday stress, including the pressure of gift giving, finances, family and friends, managing expectations, grief and sadness, and more, all on top of the normal stresses of life (APA, 2021). That can be enough to damper anyone’s joy this holiday, however, the blessing of holiday stress is that it is both predictable and manageable.

First, recognize that if you are struggling with stress this holiday season, you are not alone. Studies show that only 28% of people report that the holidays leave them feeling joyful (WebMD, 2003) and more than 80% of people find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful (Scott, 2021). With statistics like those, it’s safe to say that there’s probably something about the holidays that has you feeling stressed.

“The holidays really are the best of times and the worst of times. Our tidings of comfort and joy can so easily be devoured by the insatiable stress to do it all, be it all, and buy it all” (WebMD).

…do it all? The saying goes that it is possible to have too much of a good thing, cautioning us to moderation. This is true for the holidays, we can be overwhelmed with too many activities, eating too much food, spending too much money, and the pressures of too many family traditions/expectations, leaving us feeling frazzled rather than fulfilled.

…be it all? Taking care of ourselves is essential year round, but during the holidays this can feel sidelined, when it is arguably the most needed- we experience changes in our routines, travel, increased family strain, overindulgence, and overwhelming pressures to be jolly (regardless of how we actually feel).

…buy it all? Debt should not be a holiday tradition, but yet it still can feel like a looming expectation when finding affordable gifts feels difficult combined with the pressure of finding the perfect gift that somehow represents your relationship with someone else.

So what can we do?

  1. Give yourself a break. Schedule some “me” time and take time to take care of yourself.
  2. Know your personal triggers. Find your top two or three stressors and make an action plan to help reduce that stress.
  3. Find your priorities don’t lose sight of what really counts. Take time to reflect on what this season really means to you, whether it is about family, community, or religion, make sure your reason for the season remains the forefront.
  4. Think quality, not quantity. Is there an event, tradition, or expectation feels like more stress than joy? Does it align with your priorities?
  5. Acknowledge your feelings- it’s okay not to be okay, you cannot force yourself to be happy all the time just because it’s the holiday season.

Holidays don’t have to be something that you dread. By taking time to know and understand your personal stress triggers, focusing on what is important, and planning ahead, you can take back control- and make the time to celebrate the magic and the joy of the season.


American Psychological Association. (2021). Holiday Stress Resource Center.

Scott, E. (2021). How to Manage the Inevitable Holiday Season Stress. Verywell Mind.

WebMD. (2003). Beating Holiday Stress. WebMD.

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