Top 5 Sources of Stress During the Holidays

Dr. Kristyn Gregory

| 4 min read

Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Dr. Gregory received her medical degree from the Chicago School of Osteopathic Medicine. She then completed residency training in Adult Psychiatry at Henry Ford, and a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Wayne State University. She is board-certified in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She has practiced in a variety of settings in the metro Detroit area including inpatient, residential, outpatient, school-based and juvenile justice programs.

The holiday season can bring us joy as we gather with family and friends to share meals, make memories and celebrate the end of the year. But the responsibilities of planning and preparing to keep traditions alive can bring new sources of stress that can threaten our everyday calm.
Here are five of the most common sources of stress during the holiday season:
  1. Family dynamics: While the holidays are a time for gathering with loved ones, some family relationships may be difficult to navigate. For families that have suffered a loss, trying to plan a holiday meal or event may bring fresh feelings of grief. Additionally, any existing tension in family relationships may become exacerbated by the stress of the holiday season. 
  2. Financial worries: From gift giving and decorations to extensive grocery bills for large family dinners, the demands of keeping up with holiday traditions can easily strain wallets and cause concern. Additionally, living expenses may increase during the colder months of the year with higher gas and electric bills, as well as new winter clothes for growing children. 
  3. Pressure to participate: There’s often a flurry of activities in November and December each year, no matter how one chooses to celebrate the season. Work schedules can fluctuate, there’s more events on weekends and new seasonal obligations – especially for families with children in schools. We want to say “yes” to everything. Managing these events brings stress on top of the disruptions to our everyday schedules.
  4. Existing behavioral health issues: For individuals managing existing behavioral health issues including depression, anxiety or substance use, the holidays can be a tricky time. Many holiday events include alcohol and expectations we have to manage. We often put pressure on ourselves to feel a certain way as we prepare for and participate in holiday traditions. We think we should feel happy and joyous and at peace. And when we don’t, we feel like something is wrong with us. In reality, nothing is wrong – it’s normal to not always feel happy – even during the holidays.
  5. Weather: The weather can affect us more than we think. The unpredictability and danger of winter weather can interrupt travel plans, cancel events or make the evening commute slick and harrowing – all factors that can cause stress. Additionally, the reduced hours of sunlight during the winter months can negatively affect our moods.

Healthy coping strategies

Managing stress and anxiety during the holiday season can be a balancing act. While there are more tasks and events to tend to during this time of year, it’s important to identify when stress and anxiety are negatively impacting everyday life and to find ways to intervene.
Here are some healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety during the holidays:
  • Set boundaries: Prevent burnout during this season by prioritizing the activities and people that bring joy, and limiting the amount of time spent on activities and people that do not. During a stressful week, it’s OK to say no to a party invite or buy cookies at the store instead of spending hours baking them from scratch.
  • Follow routines: Though it may be tempting to drop parts of everyday health and wellness routines like going to the gym, seeing a therapist or going to bed on time, keeping up with these practices can help the body and mind manage the stress and unpredictability of the season. Always take medication as prescribed.
  • Take a break: If there’s a family member who starts up a conversation on a sore subject during a family dinner, try not to let it escalate. If needed, leave the room and step outside.
  • Being present is the best present: Financial worries can affect us all. Consider setting limits with presents, creating homemade gifts, hosting a gift exchange or by finding other ways to spread joy without buying something for everyone.
  • Find moments to be mindful: A mindfulness practice can help to ground and center one’s feelings and emotions, especially in a stressful time. It allows individuals to be connected to the here and now, which can help regulate anxiety over upcoming events and things to do.
If stress and anxiety during the holiday months becomes overwhelming, talk with a health care provider about healthy ways to manage the mental load and find strategies to reduce the burden. It’s important to find healthy outlets to deal with feelings and emotions.
Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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