How to Handle Holiday Stress

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The holiday season can be a two-sided coin.

On one side there’s holiday cheer, family gatherings, love and happiness. On the other, stress, depression, anxiety. And very often people feel both — holiday cheer and stress or anxiety.

One survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38 percent of those contacted reported increased stress levels during the holidays with commercialism, lack of time, lack of money and family gatherings among the causes.

The survey also found that while many people responded that they felt happy and were in high spirits over the holidays, they also experienced stress, irritability and sadness.

During the holiday season, people often start taking on more than they’re able to manage. People also set unrealistic expectations for themselves, and when they fail to meet them, they beat themselves up.

Try these tips to reduce holiday stress and anxiety:

  • Practice self-compassion. Accept that things don’t have to be, and likely will not be, perfect. Recognize that no one expects perfection and simply enjoy the moment. Smile and chat with a co-worker instead of worrying about saying the right thing. Put up decorations and don’t worry if they aren’t perfect.
  • Recognize it’s acceptable to say no. It’s easy to overbook and overspend at the holidays if we’re not careful. Spend some time with a calendar and checkbook before the holiday season kicks into full gear and establish a game plan. Taking the time to plan will help make the holidays more enjoyable and a bit less stressful.
  • Embrace differences, or at least practice accepting them. Holidays can sometimes mean time with a dysfunctional family. Remembering people can only control their own thoughts and actions and can’t change others is the first step toward getting through those moments. If necessary, set boundaries on what will or won’t be tolerated from relatives. If things become tense, have a plan — maybe it’s going for a walk, deep breathing or, if necessary, leaving early.
  • Allow some personal time. With a busy holiday schedule, it can be easy to let self-care take a back seat. However, relaxation time can be the best gift to get through the holiday season with less stress. Getting enough rest, staying hydrated, exercising and eating healthy can provide the energy people need for shopping trips, holiday parties or traveling and help keep stress at bay. Practicing gratitude also can help people maintain a positive mindset during the holidays.

Manage stress with yoga or meditation. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes a day for deep relaxation and reflection.  If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, research light therapy and spend time outdoors on sunny days. Be mindful of how severe depressed feelings are and how long they last. Talk to a primary care doctor or a therapist about feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed—they can share resources that may help.

630 Naperville Guest

Sari Salvesen, LCPC is a clinical therapist with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

About Edward-Elmhurst Health

Edward Hospital and Linden Oaks Behavioral Health are part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health, a fully integrated healthcare delivery system committed to providing access to quality, vibrant, community-connected care, serving an area of more than 4.2 million residents across six northeast Illinois counties. Our more than 25,000 team members and more than 6,000 physicians aim to deliver transformative patient experiences and expert care close to home across more than 300 ambulatory locations and eight acute care hospitals – Edward (Naperville), Elmhurst, Evanston, Glenbrook (Glenview), Highland Park, Northwest Community (Arlington Heights) Skokie and Swedish (Chicago) – all recognized as Magnet hospitals for nursing excellence. Located in Naperville, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health provides for the mental health needs of area residents. For more information, visit and

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