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Tips For Reducing Holiday Stress

By: Dr. Jim Goldstein

The holidays bring with them the potential for considerable stress and anxiety. Most folks can’t help but have hopes and expectations and if these aren’t met, upset feelings are right around the corner. Unmet expectations and thwarted intentions (the major causes of upsets) occur more frequently around family gatherings. So how can we be with the people in our lives who mean the most to us without burnouts or breakdowns? Here are some tips:

1. Brief and Debrief

Instead of just walking headlong into the holidays hoping for the best, set aside a time to talk with family members (brief) about your expectations, fears, and possible conflicts that might arise. Work out strategies to circumvent these unwanted scenarios ahead of time e.g., “I’m afraid you will disappear after the meal and I will be stuck with your mom in the kitchen doing all the clean-up.”

Often this fear is based on what happened last time. See if you can work out a plan so that both of you are more conscious to not let that happen. For instance, “Okay, how about if you give me some things that I can be responsible for after the meal and I promise to handle those things without you having to remind me e.g., washing and drying all the serving trays and taking out the garbage when it starts getting full. Would that help?”

Later, after the company has gone, you debrief. Talk about what worked, what didn’t work and how you could do it better next time. After a while, you’ll have learned how to handle the holidays as a team becoming better at it with practice.

2. Focus on what you like and how you want to feel

We have so many things on which we can focus our attention. If we notice all the things that aren’t going well, our list of mistakes and missteps will continue to grow and our mood will darken. Likewise, if we notice what we like about the people, places and things in our lives, that list will grow too and so will our feelings of gratitude. Gratitude reduces stress and gives us perspective on our lives. It allows us the greatest access to what we all want to feel—love.

Remember that the holidays are not about getting it all right. They are about being with family, being gracious, and giving thanks that we have each other and can be together (especially when many people all over the world can’t be with their loved ones). My sister always asks people at the table to talk about something they are grateful for. It might seem corny but I am always moved by what people say at that time.

Hope you have a great holiday.

Let me know if you were able to apply any of these tips to make your holiday less stressful. I’d love to hear anything you’ve learned to reduce stress during this holiday season.


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