Coping with Holiday Stress

How to cope with holiday stress

Page updated on Dec 9, 2020 at 1:36 PM

Coping with Holiday Stress 


Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

This holiday season may be stressful due to anxieties about safety and what the future may bring. And some may be facing the holidays without family, friends or co-workers. Although the season can be challenging, there are ways to beat the stress and have meaningful moments with our loved ones. These are practical steps to help reduce stress during the holiday season.

Tips from the CDC

  • Take care of yourself. Being away from family and friends during the holidays can be hard. When you talk with your friends and family about plans, it’s okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others.
  • Do what’s best for your household. Doing what’s best for you includes eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. Take care of your body and stay active to lessen fatigue, anxiety and sadness.
  • Spend time with those in your household. Hard choices to be apart this year may mean that you can spend many more years with your loved ones. Do what is best for your mental health and the health of your loved ones. This year spend time with those in  your own household.

Mental Health First Aid Self-Care Tips

  • Manage your expectations. Remember that this year is different and may not feel like the holiday season we are used to. Whether you are sharing a meal over Zoom or sending well wishes to family across the country, managing your expectations for yourself and others will help you stay positive. Give yourself and those around you some grace – none of us have been through a time like this before, and we’re all trying to balance staying safe with feeling “normal.”

  • Pull back when you need to. If, at any point, you feel overwhelmed or anxious, know that it’s perfectly fine to take a step back. Healthy boundaries are necessary for your mental health. Practicing self-care can also help soothe feelings of anxiety or stress. Take a walk, watch a funny movie, or meditate.

  • Reach out to loved ones. In times like this, living in a digital age can feel like a saving grace. Stay connected with your loved ones via text, social media, video or phone. Make yourself available for those you cannot see in person and offer your support to loved ones who may be struggling — a simple text or email can make a difference.

  • Monitor your moods. The “holiday blues” are real, so it is important to stay in tune with how you’re feeling. It can be easy to put others before yourself during the holiday season but remember that how you’re feeling matters too. Practicing mindfulness, journaling, or even rating how you feel every day can help you better understand your emotions. Pay attention to what makes you happy and incorporate it into your daily life. And remember: It’s OK to not be OK, and you’re not alone.

  • Ask for help. If the holidays become more than you can handle, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Talk to a loved one, trusted peer, or even your primary care physician about how you’re feeling. If you notice a family member or loved one having a difficult time, encourage them to seek help too.

Other Stress-Reducing Tips

  • Set time aside to think about lost loved ones. Talk about your feelings. Do something to honor their memories such as lighting a candle, singing a song saying a prayer or eating your loved one’s favorite food.
  • Don’t allow your holiday expectations to be determined by magazine pictures or unrealistic television scenes. High expectations cause pressure. Nobody can create the picture-perfect home or family. Do the best you can and know that it is good enough.
  • Establish a budget and stick to it. Be realistic about what you can spend on gifts, entertainment, decorations and travel.
  • When giving gifts, remember that it’s the thought that counts. Remind children of this too. Handmade gifts will help you to save, and also carry special messages to friends and relatives.
  • Surprises are nice, but asking people what they want makes shopping easier.

More Holiday Stress Tips

  • Find time for yourself to relax and reflect on the simple joys of the holidays. When you feel overwhelmed, take a break.
  • Give yourself permission to decorate less and drop one or two family traditions in order to reduce stress.
  • Drink in moderation, eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise and rest so you have energy, feel good and are better able to avoid family conflicts. 
  • Don’t feel badly if you’re not happy. Holiday blues are normal and temporary.
  • Remember that one reason for the holidays is renewal through sharing love and faith with others.

Kids & Holiday Stress

Children often experience stress during the holidays due to sadness for lost loved ones, parental/guardian stress, or over-excitement.

Signs of stress in children include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Crying and sadness
  • Clinging, or fear of strangers
  • Worry, nightmares, fear of darkness
  • Regression to immature behavior such as bed wetting or thumb sucking
  • Increased shyness or aggression
  • Headaches, stomachaches and other pain
  • Talking of death or dying

Some ideas on how to help:

  • Manage your own stress
  • Maintain normal household routines
  • Talk with kids about their feelings at a level they can understand
  • Encourage kids to express their feelings through drawings or playing
  • Enforce established rules and consequences
  • Include kids in planning a ceremony to remember and honor lost loved ones
  • Teach kids about different cultural holidays
  • Involve kids in holiday preparation; ask for and include their ideas
  • Spend peaceful individual time with each child, doing quiet activities they enjoy (Try just 10 minutes a day!)
  • Have your entire family plan and participate in giving (time, money, gifts) to someone less fortunate
  • Give kids lots of hugs, love and patience
  • Give yourself lots of love and patience

Asking for Help

  • VA COPES Non-Emergency Warm Line | 877.349.6428 | Call or text | Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; weekends 5-9 p.m.

  • Parent Support Line | 703.324.7720 | Text “support” or “parenting to 30644 | Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

  • Evaluation and Assessment (Business hours)
    For Children's Behavioral Health Services | 571.213.7963 or
    For Adult's Mental Health or Substance Use Services | 703.746.3535

24-Hour Resources