The holiday season can be a time of great joy and gratitude. Movies, commercials, pictures in social media, all give the impression that every family (except our own) is perfect.  For many, however, the holidays can be very stressful. Many families experience difficult situations including estranged relationships, personal disappointments, loss, and grief. These difficulties hurt in a very real way.

Here are some tips to help prepare for this time and experience less stress during the season.

  1. Plan ahead to feel empowered. Many people feel pressured during the holidays to join activities or interact with others in ways that undermine their sense of agency. Based on your experiences in previous holidays, make a plan that prioritizes your needs and wishes. For example, if you do not feel comfortable attending a celebration with people you always end up arguing with, plan an alternative activity that will bring joy. Whatever you choose, it will reflect that your well-being is your priority and it will help you feel empowered.
  2. Set realistic expectations. Expectations help prevent disappointments. For example, many people feel pressured to buy expensive gifts, participate in lavish events, and spend too much. Make a budget and set clear expectations for yourself of what you can afford. Communicate your desire to give but also your real financial possibilities. If your children are asking for gifts you cannot afford, talk to them about the budget in a way they can understand. Offer them the opportunity to choose by themselves from what is possible. Teach them the value of shared time and open communication over that of material things.
  3. Do not be afraid to say “no.” “No” can be a whole sentence sometimes. For example, you can excuse yourself from holiday activities that you do not want to join. You can also set an internal boundary by identifying your triggers and common negative feelings. When something does not make you feel good, you can be the first one taking care of yourself. You can say “no” to yourself when you want to say a hurtful comment that increases tension.
  4. Ask for help. For many, the holidays are not merry and cheerful. People with depression can struggle when their feelings do not match the general excitement. People with anxiety may feel nervous about meeting others socially. Those who struggle with eating disorders may be triggered by food offerings at family reunions. Addictions can be even more difficult to manage during this time of the year.

If you feel you are struggling or that someone close to you is, ask for help. Seek resources in, identify your support system if you have one, call 988 if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. Reach out to self-help groups to address your needs.

The holidays can be a stressful time, but seeking help can be the first step to feeling better and continuing your path towards well-being.

About the Author: Carolina Hausmann-Stabile is the Director of Population Health for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). During the holidays, she loves baking and watching old movies.