Navigating Holiday Stress in a COVID World

Learn how to minimize stress this holiday season

Holiday Stress is something that is probably impacting a lot of us right now — this year especially. The holidays are presented as a very joyful, warm, and fuzzy time of year. A lot of us want to decorate, give gifts, and bake treats. However, is this stereotypical image of the holidays realistic? What is the reality of bringing this vision to life?

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Christine Topping, MS, LMFT

Holiday Stress is something that is probably impacting a lot of us right now this year especially. The holidays are presented as a very joyful, warm, and fuzzy time of year. A lot of us want to decorate, give gifts, and bake treats. However, is this stereotypical image of the holidays realistic? What is the reality of bringing this vision to life?

Financial Pressure

Not everyone has the financial capability to pack dozens of gifts under their tree – assuming they have a tree. Not to mention, a lot of incomes have taken a hit this year through job losses or a decrease of hours. Despite these changes, we may feel external pressure from those around us to spend the same amounts of money as before. This might come from our families, friends, or even outside influences like social media or traditional advertisements. This type of pressure can influence us to live outside of our means. Some people will max out credit cards and “deal with it later”. Others will put off paying bills to fulfill holiday expectations. While this might seem like a great solution to holiday stress in the moment it is a sure way to create more stress down the road.

Grief During the Holidays

Another aspect of the holiday season that is less portrayed is grief. For a lot of us, the holidays can be painful reminders of loved ones we have lost. Perhaps it is the first holiday season without them, or maybe you are carrying out traditions that they really enjoyed without them. After a year filled with so much loss, there will be a lot of people struggling through the holidays that they celebrate. There may be a lot of symptoms of depression and anxiety in ourselves or those in our social networks. Make it a point to check in on loved ones, and yourself.

Things to reduce this stress

Understanding our stress is only the first part. What can we do to combat some of it? First, we can set limits or boundaries.

Set financial Limits

Financial limits, like a maximum dollar amount, can help keep our spending under control. If we feel pressure from others to spend more, we can say, “Sorry, I don’t want to go above the limit I set for myself.”

Set limits on your time

You can also set limits on your time. You do not need to allow yourself to be stretched thin to attend multiple celebrations or activities. This year, especially, you do not have to expose yourself to others if you are not comfortable doing so. If you do want to attend but are worried about safety, you can request to be included via phone call or video chat applications as well. Do not be afraid to say no. And don’t be afraid to get creative.

Set Emotional Boundaries

Another very important limit to set involves our emotions. Regardless of traditions or familial expectations, you do not have to spend holidays with family if it is a toxic environment or has a toxic impact on your mental wellness. This can be a huge source of holiday stress for a lot of us. While we may be afraid to disappoint our families, there is no obligation to attend gatherings. Part of setting limits is to do what is best for you, not what will please everyone else.

Create New Traditions

In addition to setting limits, you can create new traditions. These traditions might address the abovementioned stressors, or they may just be a fun tradition to look forward to each year. Examples include:

  • Buying a gift in a checkout lane
  • Christmas pickle
  • Cookie decorating contest with family or friends
  • Making holiday ornaments

Buying a gift in a checkout lane is a great opportunity to keep costs down while also opening the door for humor and memories. Checkout lanes are limited, so the results could be very random and amusing.

The Christmas pickle is an existing tradition that involves hiding a pickle shaped tree decoration on a Christmas tree. Whoever finds the pickle might receive a special gift, or in some cases it is believed that they will have good fortune in the coming year.

Cookie decorating and ornament making are fun traditions that can take place in person, virtually, alone, or with others. It is a very flexible idea and can be as customized as a person would like. Maybe the cookie contest has themes or challenges each year. Maybe the winner is selected via social media votes. The options are truly endless.

Manage your own expectations

Another way to combat holiday stress is to manage our own expectations. What is reasonable for us as individuals? After all, we are only human. We can’t do it all, because we have to make time for things like sleeping, eating, and hygiene. Identify what you think is truly reasonable for you with your schedule, obligations, and interests. Sometimes this takes some trial and error. Maybe you thought you could fit more on your plate than you could. Learn and adjust for next time. It’s also important to take care of ourselves instead of pleasing others. If fulfilling someone else’s expectation is damaging to our own self-care, then we need to set a boundary or limit on that.

The holidays are supposed to be a season of joy and happiness, so make sure that is what it is for you – even if it doesn’t look like a Hallmark movie.

Additionally, if you are interested in our self-guided courses, visit selfhelp.strengthenu.com!

Christine Topping, MS, LMFT
Christine Topping, MS, LMFT
Christine has years of experience working with variety of clients and in many different types of settings, assisting individuals, families, couples, and children. She uses her experience and training to support healthy change towards an improved mental health and well-being. She cares for each client in their own unique way to fit their goals and current situation.
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Christine Topping, MS, LMFT
Christine Topping, MS, LMFT
Christine has years of experience working with variety of clients and in many different types of settings, assisting individuals, families, couples, and children. She uses her experience and training to support healthy change towards an improved mental health and well-being. She cares for each client in their own unique way to fit their goals and current situation.
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