Tips for Dealing with Stress and Overwhelm during the Holidays

Decrease the Overwhelm and Thrive!

From your RAFT Counseling Team

As the holidays approach, an innocent peek at the calendar can turn into a thought spiral of everything that could possibly go wrong. Your younger self’s gleeful anticipation of presents, fun, and games is now replaced with dread for uninvited conversations, overstepping, and emotional exhaustion. 

Instead of sitting in the pre-party panic, prepare yourself by facing it head-on. Here are five ways you can go easy on yourself this holiday season instead of steamrolling through tough times.

1. Prioritize Anxiety Reduction Beforehand

Entering the holiday season as a ball of stress and nerves will only add dry straw to a burning fire. Instead, keep cool by trying these anxiety-reducing tips the week leading up to the holiday:

  • Start every morning with a 10-minute guided meditation.
  • Write down three things you’re grateful for every day.
  • Do 20-30 minutes of exercise daily. (Yoga is great for mindfulness and stress reduction.)
  • Start a new book you’ve been holding onto.
  • Watch your favorite movie or re-start your favorite show.

2. Keep Realistic Expectations

One way that people cope with being raised by emotionally immature parents is by inventing “healing fantasies.” We convince ourselves that if we pull off some arbitrary accomplishment, suddenly our parents will become more understanding, loving, and connected with us.

You may think, “Once I get a nice job and can afford to start hosting holidays at my house, everyone will be warm and respectful of each other.” Or, “Once I graduate from college, my parents will finally stop knocking my intelligence.” 

It’s important to be realistic about the adults in your life. Not everyone is willing or even capable of extreme personal change. Even though you know your uncle shouldn’t ask about your sex life over coffee after dinner, he’s done it for the past few years so he’ll probably keep doing it. Don’t hold your breath on him changing. Instead, take care of yourself by limiting your interactions with him. 

3. Maximize Time with Your Favorites

Focus on the cousins who actually get you. (Or at least the ones who don’t point out your flaws and ask uncomfortable questions.)

Get closer to Grandma by asking her to retell her favorite life stories. (Even if Mom never did because her own problems with Grandma got in the way.) Remember, this is your holiday too. Enjoy it on purpose!

4. Set Boundaries 

Therapist and writer Prentis Hemphill describes boundaries as “the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Boundaries aren’t about asking other people to change. They’re self-imposed limits on the kinds of interactions we have with others, promises to put ourselves first.

Here are some boundaries statements to practice using, whether you’re spending a night or a weekend with family:

  • “No, I’m not interested in that.”
  • “That’s not something I’m comfortable talking about, so I’ll step out for this conversation.”
  • “I want to have lots of energy this weekend, so every now and then I’m going to spend time alone going on a walk, napping, or reading. Just a heads up so no one’s wondering where I am!”
  • “It hurts when I tell you what I need to feel fully present this holiday and you respond with guilt trips. I don’t want to feel like I’m disappointing you by taking care of myself. Can we embrace the time we have together and cut back on the guilt tripping?”

5. Take Breaks

Everyone needs them. Whether you’re a server ducking into the walk-in cooler during a dinner rush or a point guard running laps back-and-forth down the court, humans need breaks when we push ourselves. Family time can be fulfilling when we remember to check in with ourselves and take a few breaths outside. 

Working with a therapist is another great way to build your holiday toolbelt of coping skills and work through the guilt of putting yourself first. Ready to bring more joy and hope into the holidays? Schedule your first appointment today.

Go Back