It’s no secret that the holidays are stressful. Last year, the American Psychiatric Association surveyed more than 2,000 adults: 41% reported increased worry during the season. This year, 31% said they expected to feel even more stressed than in 2021. The reasons are many: social obligations, problems with gifts, family tensions, travel challenges, financial worries.
So we asked experts to offer some solutions to our holiday stressors.
Learn to say ‘no’
This holiday season can be so busy that the overbooking seems inevitable. But if adding yet another obligation to your schedule makes you want to scream, you might need to set boundaries, according to Nedra Glover Tawwab, licensed therapist and author of “Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships.” [Sem drama: um guia para gerenciar relacionamentos familiares insalubres]🇧🇷
First, determine what’s important: Look at the appointments in your calendar and decide how much time and energy you want to devote to each one, said Afton Kapuscinski, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Syracuse University.
Once your priorities are set, you’ll need to feel comfortable saying no.
Inger E. Burnett-Zeigler, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommended three different ways to decline. You can just say “no” because “‘no’ is a complete sentence,” she explained. You can say, “no, not now” and suggest a different schedule. Or you can say, “I can’t do this, but I can do that.”
Still, there are times when we can’t prioritize our comfort: “Sometimes we just have to go,” said Glover Tawwab. Remembering why these obligations are important can help motivate you a little.
— Hannah Seo
Avoid family quarrels
For some people, family tension is the Christmas tradition itself. Karl Pillemer, family sociologist and professor of human development at Cornell University and author of “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them” [Linhas de falha: famílias fraturadas e como consertá-las]suggested some rules.
Remember, family gatherings aren’t the time to “fix” anyone, Pillemer said. It’s tempting to get into heavy or personal topics, but avoid using a festive meal to convince your parents to take better care of their health. As for tense political discussions, ask yourself: is there any possibility of changing hearts and minds? If the answer is no, don’t start, Pillemer said.
Giving yourself physical distance is also important, Pillemer said. And, most importantly, set aside some space when you feel the tension building. “The point,” Pillemer said, “is to focus on not reacting — and pulling away when you need a break.”
— Catherine Pearson
Economic concerns have made this holiday season particularly stressful for some. Rick Kahler, a financial therapist and planner based in Rapid City, South Dakota, suggested taking the time to think about what you can realistically afford.
Once you have a budget, discuss what you value most about the season with your loved ones and prioritize spending on those things, said Judith Gruber, a social worker and financial therapist in East Lyme, Connecticut.
Here are some tweaks you can make to celebrate the season a little more:
Giving people experiences instead of objects is an option. Low-cost ideas include organizing a trail, scheduling a trip to the museum on a free day, or a game night.
Travel costs can make celebrations impossible. And even if you’re tired of virtual meetings, hosting a video meeting can help you stay connected.
— Dana G. Smith
Vacations come, but rest doesn’t.
Even if you’re lucky enough to get some time off, your mind can still be filled with work deadlines, money problems, and an ever-growing to-do list. If you find yourself unable to relax even after your schedule is empty, these tips from Angela Neal-Barnett, professor of psychology at Kent State University, may help:
The holidays are likely to be the only time you can dedicate to being present, Neal-Barnett said. Focusing on the task at hand (watching a Christmas movie or wrapping presents) instead of simultaneously catching up on emails can help relieve stress. When we are distracted, our minds jump from one thought to another, making us feel overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that when we take time off, we have a period of doing nothing.
If a concern arises, take the time to think about it when your vacation is over. “Ask yourself: Am I really going to do anything about this now?” said Thea Gallagher, clinical psychologist at New York University, Langone Health. If not, “it’s just thinking rubbish”.
— Dani Blum
The past two years have lowered many people’s social vigor, making work get-togethers particularly uncomfortable for some, said Liz Fosslien, author of “No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work” [Sem mágoas: o poder secreto de abraçar a emoção no trabalho] and “Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay” [Grandes sentimentos: como estar bem quando as coisas não estão]🇧🇷
Done right, though, parties where hierarchies are abolished and coworkers mingle can be good for team morale, said Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters” [A arte da reunião: como nos encontramos e por que é importante]🇧🇷
And consider arriving early. According to Parker, this is a good way to really connect with other people, “because there will be fewer people in the room and you can have more focused conversations.”
Having an exit plan can also alleviate some social anxiety. “I’m an introvert, so I tell myself, ‘I’m going to be there for an hour and then I’ll reevaluate,'” Fosslien said. You may find “that you actually come in more relaxed and then have fun and end up staying longer than you thought.”
— Alisha Haridasani Gupta
Attention to children’s routine
The holiday season can bring out the worst in some kids. But it really isn’t their fault, said Carla Naumburg, clinical social worker, author of “You are Not a Sh*tty Parent: How to Practice Self-Compassion and Give Yourself a Break.” [Você não é um pai de m*erda: como praticar a autocompaixão e se dar um tempo] and mother of two children. Children often go to bed late, eat different foods and spend more time watching screens. “Your schedules and routines fall apart,” she said.
Some parents appreciate this break in structure, and that’s okay. But if your child becomes wild and it stresses him out, set limits. Maybe your kids need to go to bed early – even at grandma’s house. Maybe they need to go out and burn off some energy every day, no matter what the rest of the family has planned.
Even if you maintain some structure and boundaries, your child may still react poorly, so before heading to any holiday functions, make a plan for dealing with setbacks and meltdowns, Naumburg said.
Putting yourself, your loved ones and your belongings on a plane, train or automobile can cause chaos. So it’s best to do what you can to prepare ahead of time, said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel.
If you’re flying, reserve seats in advance, especially if you’re traveling with children, to ensure everyone can sit together. If you’re worried about delays, aim for the first match, which is the most likely to be on time, Twidale said.
Drivers should pack their cars as if they were going camping: bring water, snacks. And check the car battery, engine and tire pressure beforehand to avoid breakdowns on the way.
Of course, no matter how much you prepare, traveling includes some uncertainty. But accepting the stress that comes along can actually help you manage it, said Michael Ziffra, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine.
If anxiety strikes during travel, placing your hand on your stomach to feel your breath rise and fall can encourage relaxation and distraction. Mindfulness can help during times of stress, Ziffra said, but it’s most effective when practiced regularly. So here’s something else to do ahead of time: breathe.
— Nicole Stock
forget the phone
Many of us are eager to limit screen time in hopes of savoring quality moments. Still, we might find ourselves scrolling between dinner and dessert or scrolling through social media during family game night. For those looking to cut down on cell phone use, “the best thing you can do” is put physical distance between you and your device, said Adam Alter, professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” [Irresistível: a ascensão da tecnologia viciante e o negócio de nos manter viciados]🇧🇷
For those who don’t want to leave their phones in another room, these tips may help:
If you want to keep your phone close for emergencies or use it for photos, pause notifications that aren’t essential, said Larry Rosen, psychologist and author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World” [A mente distraída: cérebros antigos em um mundo de alta tecnologia]🇧🇷 You could also move your most-used apps to a separate folder on your phone away from the main screen, or try putting your phone in airplane mode, which temporarily suspends Wi-Fi and cell service, Alter said.
If forgoing the phone isn’t feasible, start with a timed break, Rosen said. Put your phone down and set a timer for 15 minutes so you can check your notifications and respond to anything urgent when your break is over.
Parents may be especially anxious to get their kids away from screens. If you want to rip people of any age off their phones, offer an alternative, Alter said. Maybe it’s a card game or a topic of conversation that everyone can talk about, like a TV show or a family tradition. “You can’t just say, ‘Don’t use your phone.’ You have to fill the void.”
Do other people seem to have more fun?
There’s a lot of pressure to be sociable during the holiday season. These expectations can make you feel down in the dumps, especially if your social media is full of parties you weren’t invited to or people who seem to be enjoying the holiday spirit in a way that you just can’t.
Limiting social media use is an obvious solution, but gratitude can also be a potent antidote to feeling like you’re missing out on the holidays, said Jaime Kurtz, a professor of psychology at James Madison University who has done extensive research on “tasting ” –the ability to notice positive experiences deliberately.
“The fear of missing out is all about scarcity, all the things you don’t have,” she said. “Gratitude and savoring are the opposite.”
Kurtz recommended starting a simple gratitude practice at the start of the holiday season. Spend some time considering the things you are looking forward to. Ask yourself: what am I excited about? Research shows that positive expectations can help improve your mood and relieve stress.
Research has also shown that keeping a gratitude journal can contribute to increased feelings of happiness and life satisfaction.
As the holidays unfold, make an effort to savor the season, Kurtz said. Take slow, intentional bites into your favorite foods to get a feel for the flavor and texture. Take a break and enjoy the warmth of your home. You can take just five seconds and silently acknowledge the experience, Kurtz said. These moments, combined, can help you focus on what you have rather than the fun holidays other people are having.
Hannah Seo, Catherine Pearson, Dana G. Smith, Dani Blum, Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Nicole Stock and Nicole Frölich
I have over 8 years of experience in the news industry. I have worked for various news websites and have also written for a few news agencies. I mostly cover healthcare news, but I am also interested in other topics such as politics, business, and entertainment. In my free time, I enjoy writing fiction and spending time with my family and friends.