Keeping Your Cool During The Holiday Season

Winter holidays can be a particularly challenging time for many people. The weather, money pressures, shop closures, and navigating family dynamics can all increase stress. A recent study has shown that 38% of people experience increased stress during the holidays.[1]

The popularity of social media can cause additional pressure and even guilt. Going online and watching as other people share short snippets of their festive fun and activities can create feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and anxiety that add to an already stressful time.

This blog focuses on our tips for recognizing what causes additional stress and keeping your cool during the holiday season.

Why The Holidays Can Be Stressful

There are many reasons that the holiday season can cause increased stress and anxiety. For some, holidays may have always stirred these feelings, whereas it may emerge later for others due to various factors. 

Concerns About Money 

The holiday season can undoubtedly be very expensive.  Between travel, gifts, food, increasing energy costs, and parties, it is no surprise that over a quarter of holiday shoppers say the holidays will place a strain on their budgets. [2] Worrying about money can also have a great impact on our mental health because mental health problems can affect financial well-being and make it harder to earn or manage money.

With presents, parties, decorations, and record-high inflation, the holiday season in the US is getting increasingly expensive. The American commercialization of the holiday season, from Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to last-minute sales, has led to increased holiday spending every year, especially since 2009. [3] 

With a potential recession looming, many additional families will be worrying about how they are going to afford the same kind of celebration they had in recent years. Pressure from family, friends, and wider society to make this time of year “perfect” can cause anxiety and, for some, even shame that the holiday season might not be as magical as everyone hopes. However, as much as it may seem like others are managing fine, there is consensus that this year in particular will need to be done a little differently. Almost half of Americans say they feel financially unprepared for the upcoming years, and 27% of holiday shoppers expect to assume debt for holiday purchases. [2] Taking on debt at any time can feel like a weight on your shoulders, and the current climate can intensify this feeling. Taking care of your mental well-being must be a priority.

Empty Seats 

This time of year can be particularly difficult for those who have lost loved ones. For many, the holiday season has a strong focus on family togetherness. Whether it happened recently or in years past, the loss of a loved one can cause feelings of grief to resurface during the holiday season as their presence is acutely missed. Coping with grief during the holidays can be complex, and the joy and hope that is often associated with this time of year can feel like a stark contrast to the grief of having lost someone special.

Having people absent during the holidays for other reasons such as estrangement, divorce, fertility issues or child loss, health problems, or practicalities such as travel and transport can also bring up difficult feelings and memories. It is important to share how you are feeling and be aware of loved ones who may be struggling during the holiday season. Through the excitement and busyness of the holidays, it is easy to become distracted by planning and preparations. Let’s all take a moment to check in with people who might find this time of year particularly difficult and acknowledge that grief can co-exist with the joy of celebrations during this time.

Practical Challenges and Access to Services 

Childcare can present a difficulty for many families during the holiday season. Many people have to work while their children are home from school and are unable to spend as much time with them as they may like. It can also be difficult to find enough time to do everything in preparation for the holidays.

Services are often closed at some point during the holiday season and may run a reduced service, which can include essential services such as crisis teams and some helplines. Medical facilities may close at certain times over the festive period, and it can be harder to book an appointment. Many therapists also take time off for the holidays or take on fewer appointments.

Mental Health and Loneliness 

For millions of people, the holiday period can be incredibly lonely for many reasons. For some, there is a physical distance between them and those they care about, which may include those in hospitals, care homes, or living abroad. Others, even with many people around, might still feel lonely because they feel unable to share their feelings or need to act differently around certain people.

Many people struggle with not being accepted by family members who don’t accept or understand their LGBTIQ+ identity, their political, religious, or social beliefs, or their mental health issues. 

Many people also encounter pressures and expectations about food and alcohol. Friends or family members may not understand or respect your experiences, which can create feelings of isolation and being misunderstood. 

Past or present abuse and other trauma can make the holiday period particularly distressing. Various triggers such as seeing individuals who remind you of difficult or traumatic experiences can cause pain and traumatic memories to resurface and make people feel as if they are happening again. 

Staying Mentally Healthy 

Coping with additional stress during the holidays may require different strategies for different people. Here are some things to remember.

Keep it Simple

The holidays don’t need to be extravagant with lavish gifts and the most expensive and complicated food and drink. Minimize the details, and you will have less to worry about. This might mean inviting dinner guests to all bring a dish potluck style so that you don’t have to plan and cook an entire meal alone. Additionally, simply asking people what gifts they would like and getting gift cards for people saves time and stress. Being present is more important than anything else.

Create a Budget and Stick to It

Setting a budget for all of the extra items you know that you need to purchase over the holiday period will help you keep on top of spending. American commodification of the holidays has led to sophisticated advertising encouraging people to spend money where they perhaps cannot afford it. Regifting, making gifts, reusing leftovers, hand making decorations, and other creative activities can be both fun and helpful for minimizing spending. 

Set and Maintain Boundaries 

Looking after your own well-being should be top priority. Your health and happiness don’t need to suffer to create the “perfect” day. When comments about your diet, weight, health, beliefs, or identity are upsetting you, it can be difficult to set boundaries. Setting time aside for yourself, including for grounding and deep breathing, is important. You may not be able to change others’ opinions and beliefs, but you can prioritize time for yourself and take breaks whenever you need to. Reaching out for support from friends, family, or support lines can be a reminder that you are not alone. 

Have an Exit Strategy 

For people struggling with anxiety, trauma, or other mental health issues that make the holiday period particularly stressful, it can be helpful to create an anxiety action plan. You may not have to enact this plan, but the knowledge that you have a backup strategy can help make events more manageable. This action plan will be different for everyone. Try to decide how you will respond to increasing anxiety, which may include practicing anxiety-reducing techniques such as grounding or deep breathing, or following a set course of action to extract yourself from the situation. If you feel it’s safe enough, you can share the plan with certain people whom you know will be at the event.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anything you have read in this blog, please get in touch with Heather R. Hayes & Associates – call 800-335-0316 or email today.


[1] American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Holiday stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from 

[2] Gillespie, L. (n.d.). Holiday costs statistics in 2022: What you can expect to spend. Bankrate. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from 

[3]Probasco, J. (2022, December 9). Average cost of American holiday spending. Investopedia. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from 

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