Stress and the holidays: what’s going on for you THIS year?

stress and holidays, holiday stress mental health, dr diane mcintosh, managing stress during holidays

2022 might be the first holiday season in three (long!) years that you’ve felt the floodgates open, with holiday invitations, kids’ concerts, vacation travel and family and friends back into visiting mode. 

And yet… Here we are, facing a new seasonal trifecta of COVID-19, RSV, and the flu, hitting families, and especially children, hard and overwhelming our healthcare system, yet again.

If you’re like me, you may be picking up on a kind of dissonance this year.

On the one hand, we’re encouraged to see viruses as something we have to learn to live with, reducing our risk by taking the proper health precautions.

On the other hand, we’re more aware than ever about how these viruses spread and our role in preventing them from infecting the most vulnerable among us. 

While the public health orders that governed our last two Decembers may have been challenging, for many, these rules were something we could point to when declining an invitation.

But this year, we’re back to acting on our own best advice, guided by public health guidelines but ultimately not bound by any public prohibitions or rules.

It’s no wonder you may be feeling pressure to get back in gear and jump into the holidays with both feet, while also feeling some hesitance (or perhaps, a lot of hesitance), as you navigate how to keep yourself, your loved ones, and vulnerable members of your community safe from illness. How do you let the joy of the season in, while keeping anxiety at bay?

Keeping in mind that the holiday season can be stressful at the best of times, thanks to social obligations, financial pressures, long to-do lists and sky-high expectations, here are a few thoughts on how to cope with stress and the holidays and make the most of what can be, for many, the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Stay true to yourself.

Stress can be good for you. If you’re excited for the holidays – looking forward to time with family, a special outing, visiting with friends, once-a-year meals – a deadline can help you to stay on task and get things done. Bad stress is the kind that triggers anxiety, can feel unmanageable, and can provoke a sense of dread when you contemplate the upcoming holidays. 

Whatever this season means for you, stay true to yourself. Take the time to identify what’s important to you, so you make time for the things that really matter. Prioritizing what brings you joy increases the likelihood that this season will be one you enjoy, not endure.

2. Be prepared.

The best way to get through any extra-busy time is to prepare for it. Be sure to plan activities that matter most to you and your loved ones, like how you will decorate your space and what special activities you will enjoy together. Managing stress during holidays means making some room for the unexpected, plan for what matters most, and, most importantly, be kind to yourself. 

3. Scale down your expectations.

The pressures of shopping, cooking, visiting and making everyone else’s dreams come true can derail your personal time- it’s inevitable. It can be really difficult to maintain your usual routines – the things that give you energy and help you feel your best.

But taking care of yourself is the gift you give yourself AND those you love.

Do what you can to adapt to the pressures on your time during the season, but don’t beat yourself up for letting a few things slide. Prioritize your own health – making sure you get your sleep, stay physically active, get some fresh air, and not over-extend yourself – these are all things that keep us on an even keel, despite the busy season.

4. If this is a hard time of year for you, build a plan.

Holidays can be very difficult for some of us. Grief, loss, family separation, and loneliness can feel especially acute at this time when others are extraordinarily cheerful and celebratory.

If you know this will likely be a challenging time, it’s important to be proactive and make plans to mitigate the sting. Reaching out to someone that may be in a similar situation is an opportunity to give and receive support.

This might be the year to break traditions, to do something new, and give yourself the space you need to not only “get through it” but find some peace. Seeking new experiences can remove you from emotional triggers and help to build new, happier traditions.

Whatever the season means to you, please be kind to yourself. And make some room to let the magic of this time of year touch and restore you. 

This blog post is part of a series looking at the state of our mental healthcare system and ways we can create sustainable change to improve quality and outcomes for anyone impacted by mental illness. 


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