Advance with MUSC Health

Making Spirits Bright: How to Manage Stress Over the Holidays

Advance With MUSC Health
November 22, 2021
John Freedy, M.D. and Brandie Reynolds, M.D.

For many people, the holiday season is all about full hearts and festive feelings - but it's not all comfort and joy for everyone.

The holidays can reignite family stress or remind people of loved ones lost. It can cause financial strain, while invitations and obligations can overwhelm and wear us down. Particularly with COVID still very much with us, it can be stressful to think of big family gatherings, traveling, and sticking with (or skipping) long-held traditions.

"These feelings occur in all of us," says MUSC Health's John R. Freedy, M.D., Ph.D. "The key is to be able to acknowledge our feelings, give ourselves a break, and know that it's OK to feel how we feel - and to reach out to family, friends, or a primary care physician, if necessary."

Here are a few tips on how to manage stress over the holidays:

Be honest with yourself

Acknowledging your feelings is an essential first step in coping with stress during the holidays. Can't be with someone you love this year? Lose someone close to you? Whether you're grieving a death or feeling sad and isolated, it's OK to acknowledge those feelings. Cry if you need to and know that you cannot force yourself to feel merry and bright simply because it's the holidays.

Accept that change happens all the time

Being realistic is another important part of dealing with hard times during the holidays. Traditions change all the time - through divorce, marriage, kids, death, geographical separation. COVID-19 has added onto that, preventing us from comfortably and freely celebrating as abundantly as we may have once done. But this is an opportunity to start new traditions, like making video cards that detail what you've done this year or what you love about your recipient.

Set a budget (and stick to it)

Financial stress can be a doozy during the holidays. Don't feel obligated to spend money you don't have on presents - start new traditions with do-it-yourself gifts or homemade treats. You could also make a small donation to an organization in someone's name - to a local pet rescue for the family member who's an animal lover, for example. Try organizing a gift exchange for the whole family as a fun, new tradition that keeps things affordable for all. Getting more stuff isn't the reason for the season.

Don't isolate

Reach out. Whether it's to a friend, family member, or a therapist, talk to someone about how you're feeling - online, via video, or in person. Even if you don't want to talk, finding a community or social event may help feelings of isolation subside.

Know that it's OK to say no

While many learned to say no during 2020, the ease of COVID restrictions in 2021 has prompted more activities and, thus, more invitations, which can add to an overwhelming holiday calendar. Take control of yourself and your holiday season by saying no to stressful things that you don't need to do. Friends will understand and saying yes may only leave you feeling resentful.

Don't neglect healthy habits

Consistent overindulgence can do more harm than good, so try to pay attention to how your healthier habits may change course throughout the holidays.

"From practicing mindfulness and remembering to breathe, to getting enough sleep and eating healthy meals, it's important to stay on top of your physical and mental health during what can feel like a marathon holiday season," says Brandie Reynolds, M.D., MUSC Health Florence Medical Center. "Taking frequent walks throughout the week can reduce stress and help clear your mind, as well as give your energy and immune system a boost."

If you're feeling particularly overwhelmed and would like to speak with a primary care doctor, make an appointment by calling 843-792-7000 or visit our website.

About the Author

Advance With MUSC Health

Keywords: Psychiatry, Wellness, Primary Care