Coping With Holiday Stress And Anxiety

‘Tis The Season To Stress Less!

By Kimberly B. Smith, Anxiety & Life Transition Coach, Encompass Coaching


I don’t know about you, but I feel like the holiday exhaustion from 2019 bled right into 2020.  We barely had a chance to hit our stride with New Year’s resolutions before the bottom of the whole damn world fell out!  Now here we are, another holiday season upon us and I know I’m not the only one who is cringing just thinking about pulling out the decorations, let alone creating a Pinterest worthy holiday.  I truly want to embrace the holiday spirit, but in so many ways I’m over this year, and I bet you are too.  



Don’t get me wrong!  I love the holiday cheer!  Most years I am all about it and have even been deemed somewhat of an overachiever.  That being said, I think we can agree that the holidays are also stressful, and this year is on a whole new level.  Our world has been in upheaval from this pandemic; our economy has been struggling, we’ve been surrounded by extreme social injustices, and politics has been on fire all year long.  So many people have lost their jobs, their businesses, and are struggling not only financially, but mentally as well.  I feel exhausted just thinking about what we all have overcome.

Unfortunately, we can’t bypass the holidays and skip right in to 2021.  Resiliency is key for tough times. I’ve put together 6 Holiday Thrive Strategies, that will help us get through this traditionally stressful time of year, AND create a solid foundation as we embark on the new year ahead.  Before we get to them, let me explain what motivated me to write this in the first place.

Last year I was heavily in transition.  I left my family home, initiated a divorce, embarked on single-motherhood, and was almost 2,000 miles away from my family.  Although my ex-husband and I have remained friendly as we co-parent our daughter, his family wasn’t quite ready to embrace me or our new modern family last holiday season.  No hard feelings – we all need time to grieve in our own way.  

Part of creating a new vision for my future, was letting go of the past and what was once my reality. During my marriage I was the ringleader communicating with my in-laws and trying to plan holiday events.  Now a recovering perfectionist, I see that I did this so that I knew what to expect, and could manage my own stress and anxiety.  Little did I see that by inserting myself to this degree, taking on too much, and attempting to control as many things as I possibly could, I was making my own cortisol levels skyrocket, while everyone else casually sipped their hot toddies.

Last year was different.  There was a new landscape before me, and I had the chance to reimagine this time of year all together.  My ex and I decided it would be just the three of us; me and him, and our daughter for Thanksgiving and Christmas – but there were still questions to answer.  How did I want to spend the holidays?  What did I want to do?  Did I want to cook?  How did I want to feel?  While pondering this for myself, I came to see how easy it is to get caught up in this time of year, and overextend ourselves.  

I made some big changes in 2019, and I wanted something different for myself during the holidays.  I wanted less stress and more peace.  I wanted to freaking relax damn it!  Yes, this is supposed to be a time of joy, magic and wonder as we celebrate the end of another year, our religious festivities, practice gratitude, and the spirit of giving.  It’s all quite idyllic, yet this vision is far from most of our realities.

Brace yourself.  I’m not trying to take a turn to negative town, but let’s be real.  Holidays are different when you are divorced or have had a recent heartbreak. They are different when you are unemployed, financially strapped, dealing with a health crisis, or have a terminally ill family member.  They are different when you are far from family, overwhelmed by work responsibilities, deadlines, a terrible boss, or just juggling the never-ending competing demands on your time.  

Holidays during a pandemic are going to be different too.   

As my family dynamic and career have shifted over the last couple years, and now among this pandemic, I have thought long and hard about how to really make the most of the holidays – not only this year, but every year moving forward.  While reflecting on past years, and now looking through a realist lens, I see that a lot of the pressure, stress, and anxiety we experience this time of year is either self-induced, can be avoided, or both.

I am approaching this season with an intention to be mindful.  I am cultivating an awareness for all the triggers that can set me off, send my head spinning, my emotions flaring, and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.  I won’t be left exhausted and burnt out from doing “all the things”, or starting the new year with a mountain of suffocating and guilt-ridden credit card debt, and I hope you won’t either.   

I want to truly enjoy and feel all the joy, magic and wonder this season has to offer.

Here are my 6 Holiday Thrive Strategies, that I’ll be using to stress less and enjoy more this holiday season: 

  1. Manage Your Mind!  In any situation it is essential to manage our mindset and expectations.  We all have our vision for the season and what we hope will transpire, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.  I’m not saying to prepare for the worst.  I’m saying stay open to a variety of solutions and outcomes should something not go as expected.  The fact is, (Attention Perfectionists!) we have limited control.  We can control our own behaviors and do our best to communicate what we need, and or expect from others, but we cannot control other people or situational outcomes.  Check in with yourself when the need to control comes up.  Ask yourself, is this really worth it?  Is the thing you are trying to control really going to make or break your holiday?  What can you let go of, and how can you remain flexible?
  2. Know Your Triggers!  Stay in touch with what feels right, and what feels like too much.  What are the things that make you feel stressed?  Is it all the decorating? The holiday cards?  Maybe its traveling, cooking, the pressure to host at your home, or perhaps you are operating on a lower budget this year?  What activities, events, or items on your holiday to-do list make your anxiety quiver?  Note the things you absolutely LOVE and WANT to do, and then also note the things that you dread.  Pro-tip, stick to the list of the things that you LOVE! 
  3. Permission to lower the bar!  Stop trying to keep up with the Kardashian’s, or the Jones’, or whomever. There is an enormous pressure during the holidays to do bigger and better, year over year.  We see our neighbors putting up their holiday decorations right after Halloween, and we immediately feel like we aren’t doing enough and are falling behind.  Our sister in-law’s tree looks like it should be in Macy’s and then we start to feel inadequate.  Listen up!  You are not everyone else.  Your holidays don’t have to look like everyone else’s.  You do you, and stop the comparison.  Celebrate your way, and feel good about it!  
  4. Make your list, and check it twice!  Once you are aware of the things on your holiday to-do list that you really love to do versus dread doing, and have given yourself permission to lower the bar, you can then start making some cuts.  Let’s face it, we have limited time and energy.  Historically I’ve witnessed myself, family, friends, and clients taking on WAY too much.  One of the main reasons you see people getting sick this time of year is because they have burnt themselves out and exhausted their immune systems.  If you truly want to feel relaxed and at ease, what are the items you can cross off your to-do list all together?  Of course, it’s easier to cross things off the “dread” list, but there still may be some things on the “love” list that surpass your capacity this year.  In addition to lowering that bar, lighten the damn load! 
  5. Delegate, Baby!  No one says you have to do everything my friend.  Recognize the things that ONLY you can do, and delegate everything else.  People aren’t mind readers.  If you are feeling overwhelmed and need help, just ask!  Remember to keep communication open, respectful, and connected back to the common goal of a peaceful holiday season.  Delegate to your family, partner, kids – maybe even outsource all together!  Don’t feel like decorating the outside of your house?  There are small businesses dying to take your order and put up your holiday lights.  Don’t feel like cooking?  Make it a potluck, or have it catered.  There are SO many great places that cater holiday meals at truly reasonable prices.  All the time and energy you will save, is surely a gift to yourself! 
  6. Just say no!  It’s in our nature to want to please others, especially during this season of giving.  Mastering the ability to lovingly decline invitations, and set boundaries with others is key to reducing stress and anxiety; not just during the holidays, but all year round.  How many times do you agree to do something before really thinking about it?  How many times do you say yes, when you really want to say no?  How many times do you stress about that one family member drinking too much, or bringing drama (or worse, politics!) to the dinner table?  Tough conversations are tough!  But they are also necessary.  Declining invitations that stretch us too far, and setting necessary boundaries creates freedom and more time for YOURSELF.  It’s about being real with yourself, and taking care of your own needs.       

Still anxious about what this season has to bring?  Grab ‘My Top-Secret Tactics for Instant Anxiety Relief’ free download from my website: 

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