Posted in: Mental Health

Happy Holidays Without the Family Stress

Written By: Cindy Coloma

December 15, 2017

Del Amo Behavioral Health System Opening Presents

Holiday music and the sound of laughter fill the house as your family gathers in the living room playing games. The table is set like Martha Stewart had a hand in it, but it was all you. The smell of dinner emanates from the oven, making mouths water. The holiday lights are twinkling, frosted cookies adorn a platter on the counter, and you can’t help but smile. This year is different. No one is fighting, everything is done and all is right in the world for one day.

Then, you wake up.

Instead, Grandma is irritated that the grandkids – young and old alike – are staring at their phones and devices instead of talking. Your niece Chloe is throwing a tantrum next to the tree. Aunt Janet has the TV up so loud the windows are rattling. Then Uncle Jerry’s statement about the president makes your sister curse like a sailor, pack up her bags and slam the door on her way out. As a grand finale, you overcook the dinner while going online to check your credit card balance. By the way, the card is over the limit. Ho, ho, ho!

Understanding Holiday Stress

What is it about the holiday season that brings out the best – and worst – in us? A Consumer Reports survey found that 90 percent of people stress out over at least one thing during their year-end festivities.1 The holidays certainly can be the most stressful time of the year, but why? Here are a few common reasons we’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed:

  • Unmet expectations: Many times we hope the holiday will reflect our favorite Pinterest board or movie, and we pressure ourselves into packing our calendars with festivities. We expect our families to be on their best behavior, but often they are not. When things don’t turn out as we hope, we feel stressed, overwhelmed and sometimes even angry.
  • Financial pressure: As our expectations are dashed, we often try to spend more time and money to make our situation better. Many of us feel we aren’t doing enough and spend too much on gifts, creating a financial burden that can make a difficult situation even worse.
  • Relational conflict: Most family holidays involve conflict of some kind, but we are really good at hiding it. It feels like we are the only one with a family that seems broken, and financial pressures and stress can make things worse. Emotions are often high, and situations can escalate quickly.

Navigating the Holidays with Family

We all know we can’t choose our family. But we can choose how we navigate family time during the holiday season. Here are a few common triggers to watch for, and some healthy alternative strategies:

  • Heated conversations: Do your best to steer conversations away from polarizing subjects such as politics and past arguments. The holiday season is not the time to try and convince each other who should’ve won the election or why Grandma was justified in being mad at Uncle Jerry last year. If you’re hosting, consider setting some ground rules privately with certain family members before the holiday begins. If everyone can agree on topics that are off-limits, you may be able to avoid a scene.
  • Scheduling the little ones: Meltdowns on holidays are the worst. If you have small children in your family, avoid scheduling events during naptimes. In fact, encouraging naptime for everyone is probably a good idea. And speaking of schedules, don’t overpack yours. Be mindful of what you say “yes” to, and try to say “no” to things that drain you or don’t really matter to you.
  • Money stress: According to Deloitte Insights, Americans spent over $1 trillion on Christmas last year, and predictions show that will increase by 4 percent in 2017.2 Overspending can create an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Make a budget and stick to it. For some of us there’s nothing worse than opening a credit card statement in January. Keep that future bill in mind as you shop.

Taking Care of Yourself During the Holiday Season

It’s really up to you to make a difference in the midst of your stressful holiday season. Here are some creative ways to be good to yourself during the holidays:

  • Make a list and check it twice: Just like Santa, your list will keep you on track. Simplify, and make a list of everything you need to do. Having a plan and reviewing it each morning will help you stay ahead of the game. And yes, self-care should be on your list.
  • Practice self-care: Speaking of self-care, schedule some time during your busy week to be good to yourself. Meet a friend for coffee, go catch a movie, schedule a massage and make exercise a priority. Consider logging out of social media for a stretch of time so you can be present and appreciate the little moments that usually slip by.
  • Delegate: Take a good look at your list and see if there’s anything that can be done by someone else. Delegating things like grocery shopping, wrapping gifts, cleaning the house or walking the dogs can make a big difference in your schedule.

With some strategic planning and a little creativity, the holidays don’t have to be something you dread. They may not be dream-like perfect, but by taking time to implement a few new ideas, your family holidays can become a time of wonderful memories and season-rich joys.


1 Shader, Maggie. “Americans’ top holiday dreads – being nice makes the list.” Consumer Reports, November 29, 2011.

2 Sides, Rod. “2017 Deloitte holiday retail survey.” Deloitte Insights, October 23, 2017.