5 Tips for Easing Holiday Stress and Anxiety
December 18, 2020
By: Manuel Tancer, M.D., Wayne Health Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
Movies and social media promote the idyllic image of a festive and joyous holiday season where family and friends gather to share love, laughter and good wishes.
But for many individuals, the holiday season is not festive or joyous. It is associated with stress (feelings of emotional or physical tension) or anxiety (feelings of nervousness or unease). This will be especially true this holiday season with the added stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the holiday season, all of us tend to eat more, drink more and to spend more money than we should on gifts and food, stretching our finances. And possibly the most significant cause of stress and anxiety is the expectation that this year will be the best holidays ever. This high expectation, combined with memories of past disappointments, fuel stress and anxiety.
This year, stress and anxiety is also being fueled by changes in our holiday traditions as a result of fear of COVID transmission and restrictions on gatherings and celebrations.
Most people cope with the increased demands and stress of the holiday season by eating more than usual (often comfort foods) and drinking more alcohol (which paradoxically worsens sleep). This combination can lead to drowsiness, irritability and being argumentative.
When I work with patients who are dreading the holidays, I give them the following three words of advice: Set realistic expectations.
Here are some tips for doing that.
- This year’s holiday season will be like others in the past – NOT PERFECT. This would be true even if there was no pandemic forcing us to change our way of celebrating. Everyone will not be in a great mood and get along. Think about what might go wrong in advance and how you can prevent it or diffuse it.
- Share the load. Do not let yourself be responsible for organizing everything or cooking everything. Accept help or assign others to help.
- Eat less and drink less alcohol
- Take time out to exercise
- Take some “me” time to get grounded and think about how things are going.
And remember: you can only control your own actions. You cannot control the behavior of others.
Try these simple steps and see if they help you have a less stressful or anxious holiday season.