How to Manage Holiday Stress

Dec 15, 2023 | Therapy

How to Manage Holiday Stress

For many children, the holidays are a magical time of the year. A whole month of gifts, good food, and time away from school awaits. For fortunate children, wanting the top present on their Christmas list is the most of their concerns. For adults, however, the holidays bring added
stress on top of our regular work and commitments. It’s common for anxiety and depression surrounding the holidays to sap the joy that they’re supposed to bring. Here we explore what may be the most useful yet underutilized coping mechanism for these negative feelings: simple acts of
kindness. Therapists sometimes call these ‘contributions’ which could be as simple as sending a kind text or postcard to a loved one.

The Holidays and Stress
In our hectic society, stress has become almost as synonymous with the holidays as snow. As many as 89% of adults report feeling stressed during the holidays, and 41% of adults say their stress increases more than it does during the rest of the year. Due to the huge emphasis
placed on gift-giving, financial concerns are cited as the most common holiday stressor. This is in addition to dreading family altercations, arranging travel plans, and feeling isolated when you have no one to celebrate with. These effects are not just found in those who celebrate Christmas;
twenty-three percent of people who celebrate Jewish holidays and 20% of people who celebrate non-Christian holidays report feeling underrepresented and overshadowed by the emphasis placed on Christmas. As with all stress, several coping strategies exist to help keep it at a
manageable level. Seventy-one percent of people report talking to loved ones about their concerns, while others try to see past the holidays to a relaxing January. Only 16%, however, engage in voluntary acts of kindness, making it the least used coping mechanism among adults.

Small Actions, Big Results
Psychologists have long studied what impacts and maintains feelings of positivity. Consistently, research has shown that doing something nice for someone with no expectations of a reward (also known as a “prosocial” act) is an incredibly effective way to improve your mood.
They can lead to a greater sense of well-being, a higher sense of confidence, and more social connection with those around them. Some studies have even found that acts of kindness can be more effective than some cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. The effect of a prosocial act
is so strong that even remembering one can be just as effective as performing one. These don’t have to be grand acts of sacrifice either. You can try reaching out to a loved one who is struggling with their mental health, or making a meal for someone. Many people do not know
that buying a gift for someone else often leads to greater happiness than buying something for yourself.

Remembering the Meaning of the Holidays
The traits that link Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and so many other holidays this time of year are gratitude and kindness. Our mental health is often tied to our behavior, and the holidays are a tempting time to burn ourselves out trying to meet every expectation that we may feel obligated to meet. It’s important to remember why we started doing the things we do around the holidays. We buy gifts so we can share in the joy and excitement when our loved ones open them up. We plan meals with our families (or chosen families) to socialize and bond with the people we value and love. We amp up our acts of kindness during the holidays not because that’s become the social norm, but because it makes us happy to do so. Going out of your way to be kind isn’t just helpful to others; it’s helpful to yourself. What is one small way you can contribute to someone else’s happiness this month?

American Psychological Association. (2023, November 30). Even a joyous holiday season
can cause stress for most Americans.

Ko, K., Margolis, S., Revord, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019). Comparing the effects of performing
and recalling acts of kindness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(1).

Leyba, E. (2023, December 5). The surprising antidote to holiday stress and loneliness.
Psychology Today.

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