Manage Holiday Stress

A lot of people feel stressed about the holidays. Almost 40% of people feel more stressed during the holidays, according to the American Psychological Association. What about you? See if anything on this list applies to you — you feel stressed because…

  • You don’t have enough money to buy the presents you want to give or to travel to see your family.
  • You feel like your family judges you or makes you feel bad about your choices.
  • The holidays trigger sad memories of an unhappy childhood.
  • A loved one abuses alcohol or becomes abusive during the holidays.
  • You just went through a breakup or you lost someone around the holidays, and ever since, it just doesn’t seem the same.
  • You become overwhelmed with expectations and extra responsibilities.
  • You have a job that involves dealing with a lot of other stressed people (retail, ER, etc.)

Did you check one or more items on the list? Well, I know how you feel. I used to get stressed about the holidays. Did you ever wonder why things sometimes break down at Christmas? Especially on Christmas Day and the day after Christmas? Well, there could be several reasons.

  • Disruptions in routines can be stressful. People are used to doing things in a set way, going to school or going to work, for example. They feel effective in those settings, generally, and they know what to expect.
  • Too much togetherness with loved ones can be stressful. Parents may not be used to caring for children who are typically in school or day care, and children are high-need. Family dysfunctions can seem more acute when they are concentrated over a span of days. That can result in raw nerves, toxic family patterns, addictive behaviors and arguing.
  • Unmet expectations can result in tears, resentment and arguing. Let’s face it, real family dynamics rarely meet the standard of a Hallmark Christmas movie. When loved ones or friends don’t meet expectations, resentment and disappointment can set in. I can remember a Christmas Day being almost ruined once because someone became disappointed by a gift received from another person, and that person couldn’t move past it. It can be a little thing that upsets the cart. One or more family members may feel unappreciated or taken for granted. Or people can just try so hard that by the time Christmas rolls around, they are exhausted, depressed or even sick.
  • People just don’t know what to do with themselves. Before Christmas, there’s a lot to do. Shopping, food preparation, performances, movies, sending cards, etc. All that bustle seems to come to screeching halt on Christmas Day and the day after Christmas. After the presents are open, what do you do?

So, basically, for many families, by the time Christmas rolls around, people can be cranky (or worse). I learned that the key to feeling more in control and making the holidays be what I want is to develop a plan. Not everyone has to be on board. But for your own well-being, it may help.

Make the Plan

When you have a plan to keep busy, it can help ease the pain of the loss or disappointment you feel. If you live with family members, planning activities can keep bickering to a minimum, because for at least part of the time, your family will be occupied with activities.

Set Aside a Day to Honor the Blue Feelings

Although it is generally healthier to see the positive side of things, it is also important to feel your feelings. The trick is to manage feelings that might otherwise take over your plans. So, like others, I set aside one day to really connect to any sad feelings and mourn my losses. That day is Blue Christmas, December 21. It’s an observance that people use to remember loved ones who have passed, but you can also use this day to deal with feelings of loss of all types, loss of a job or relationship, for instance, or a goal that did not materialize for you in 2022. I do a ritual that involves meditating with a blue candle and journaling about my feelings and experiences in a blue notebook. I say a prayer, and allow myself to cry or just feel whatever feelings come up. I reflect on people who have passed, or people who are no longer in my life, as well as any setbacks or disappointments that still pain me. Since, I know I have this day set aside for those big feelings, they don’t overwhelm me anymore. But you don’t have to wait until December 21st to achieve this kind of closure. You can do it anytime you feel overwhelmed by feelings of loss or disappointment.

Christmas Day and Day After Game Plan

  1. Be realistic about what could go down. If there are members of your circle that drink too much or tend to become unpleasant (or worse) at Christmas or the day after Christmas (when people tend to get really grouchy), you probably know that pattern by now. Maybe you can think of a way to spend Christmas somewhere else, or to reduce the amount of time you spend with them.
  2. Get out of the house and outdoors. Cabin fever seems especially prevalent on Christmas Day. Going outside for a walk or a bike ride is one way to get people off screens. A big plus is that the exercise increases mood-boosting endorphins.
  3. Plan a structured activity for at least part of the day on Christmas and the day after Christmas. For example, maybe on Christmas Day, you will go a movie in the afternoon (buy tickets in advance) all together as a family. Or you might go to Busch Gardens Christmas Town in Williamsburg, or ice skating outdoors. Another idea is to go to one of the area light displays at night. Being entertained is one way to (hopefully) avoid family arguments and make memories.
  4. If you live alone, plan a variety of short, enjoyable activities that will keep you busy much of the day. Focus on the many positive aspects of being alone, #1 being absolutely free from potential family drama! Switching about every hour or two to a new activity keeps your brain active and your mood up. Alternate reading or watching TV with active activities like walking or lifting weights. Try a guided meditation, a craft and some cooking, or whatever activity interests you.
  5. Simplify the family meals. Instead of making a huge meal on Christmas Day, like a second Thanksgiving, which can be stressful and pricey, make an easier meal the whole family enjoys, such as lasagna (from frozen) and salad, or spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. It’s less pressure than babysitting a turkey all morning and it takes the burden off the one or two people who make the meal and clean up. On the day after Christmas, the whole family might go out for breakfast or lunch at a restaurant everyone likes. If you set the plan in advance for that, then everyone has something to look forward to.
  6. Volunteer. Shelters for people and for animals always need volunteers. Volunteering on Christmas Day or the day after gives your family a sense of purpose and makes them feel good about themselves. And it keeps them busy, and busy people are too busy to bicker.
  7. Stick to routines, like meal times, and encourage children not to sleep in more than an hour later than usual. Disrupted sleep schedules turn on crankiness.
  8. If you have a family, model how to manage stress. Talk about what works for you. Show your children how to belly breathe and progressively relax their muscles. Meditate or do yoga together. Take walks outdoors.

What I do NOT recommend for Christmas Day and the day after Christmas…

  1. Going to Washington, DC (unless you live there, of course). All the attractions will be closed and there will be many drunk people, on the metro and elsewhere, and some of them will be scary. There’s nowhere to eat or use the bathroom. The one attraction that is open is in the National Christmas Tree and it will be pitifully crowded with lots of crying kids. Go see the tree on any other day but Christmas Day.  And be aware that muggings and purse snatchings go way up on Christmas Day. If you venture into the city, leave your valuables safe at home.
  2. Going to Mount Vernon on Christmas Day. It’s one of the few places that is open so a lot of people flock there, which means it is really crowded. It’s hard to find a parking space or get something to eat and everything is pricey. The attractions will look exactly the same before and after Christmas Day, so go then and save yourself a headache.
  3. Returning merchandise or using gift cards the day after Christmas. Having worked in retail for many years, I can tell you that the scene at stores is not pretty on the day after Christmas. I would volunteer to work on Christmas Eve to avoid working on the 26th. Sales people are exhausted, the stock is a mess, and the customers are very grouchy. They are grouchy because they did not come up with a plan and they just decided to make it a shopping day. If there are kids, the kids are just miserable to be dragged out shopping. And they are subconsciously bummed that Christmas is, in their mind, over. So everyone will be miserable. The parking lots will be a mess. Do yourself a favor and avoid all shopping the day after Christmas. There will still be plenty of markdowns in a day or two.
  4. Taking down your decorations right away. Did you know that most people  leave their tree up through New Year’s? And there are 12 days of Christmas, right up until January 6th. Area light displays and Christmas Town in Williamsburg are open until January 8. If you plan it right, you might be able to skip the post-Christmas blues. You and your family might feel less bummed about Christmas Day and that feeling of finality if you plan little bits of Christmas celebrating after the 25th.

Check the Calendar for ideas. Keeping busy means the blues can’t catch up with you. You got this!



%d bloggers like this: