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Surviving the Christmas Holidays

Summary: For some people, the holidays are a celebration and relaxation. For others, holidays can be an extremely stressful time of year. The good news, is that there are many things that can be done to help you cope with the holidays.
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Introduction 

The holidays... For some, a time for celebration and relaxation. For others, holidays can be incredibly difficult and stressful, especially with the pressure to have a ‘wonderful, happy, perfect holiday’. 
 

Do you find the Christmas holidays stressful? If so, you are most definitely not alone. Most people find that they are not constantly happy during holidays, and in fact, according to the 2014 Sun Life Canadian Health Index, 76% of Canadians experience excessive or uncomfortable levels of stress.
 
The good news, is that there are many things that can be done to help you and your family members cope with the holidays: 

Tips for Surviving the Holidays

  • Self-Care: Do keep up with healthy routines. Holidays can be physically and emotionally demanding at times, which is why it is important to keep up with healthy routines.  Try not to overindulge over the holidays, because it can make you feel more exhausted and physically worse. 

     
  • Get enough sleep. If you do not usually get enough sleep, then the holidays are a great chance to get more sleep by going to bed earlier. 



     
  • Get outside. If you do not usually get outside, the holidays might be a chance to have some to get outside for a walk. Is the weather bad outside? As long as it’s not dangerous outside, studies show that even with bad weather, we still get health benefits from being outside. As the Swedes say, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I.e. if you find the weather bad outside, dress more warmly.  Consider asking someone else if they want to go for a walk with you -- there’s a good chance they want to do the same thing.  



     
  • Eat properly. Are you going to a holiday party? If so, then eat enough so that you aren’t starving and fill up with not so healthy things. If you do arrive starving, get a small plate and fill up on veggies and fruit first. 



     
  • Limit alcohol. Especially at social gatherings, it can be tempting to indulge in alcohol, especially if there is pressure from others. If you are pressured by others, be ready to say something, like, “Thanks, but I’m good.” “Thanks, but I’m driving…” “Thanks, but I’m feeling like I’m coming down with something…” “Thanks, but I’m getting over a bad flu so I need to take it easy…”

     
  • If you do over-indulge and stay up too late, then forgive yourself and move on. Instead of feeling guilty or self-critical, accept that nobody is perfect. Are you human? Yes, then you are imperfect like everyone else is. 



     
  • Do special things for yourself such as: 

    • Going for a nice walk. 

    • Doing yoga, or meditating, or using apps such as Headspace.

    • Listening to soothing music.

    • Reading a book that you have been intending to read. 



       
  • Show some self-compassion: Be kind to yourself. We all want to be love and accepted by others, but at the end of the day, the most important acceptance is to be able to accept ourselves and be compassionate towards ourselves. 

    • Accept that the holidays are not going to be perfect, and in fact, they may be even more stressful than non-holidays. Although there is pressure to feel happy over the holidays, the reality is that holidays can be very stressful. It’s okay to have difficult feelings such as sadness, anxiety, frustration and anger...

    • Accept that you are not alone because other people are also having an imperfect holiday, and that this is part of being human.  



    • Are you having a hard time with the holidays? 

What would you tell a friend to help them cope? 

      1. ………………………………………….

      2. ………………………………………….

      3. ………………………………………….


    • Now imagine yourself telling yourself the same thing… 

 
“Its not your job to love me. Its mine.” 
-- Toni Bernhard 
 
  • Embrace the rituals. Holiday rituals can give a sense of purpose and belonging. Get in the spirit by decorating, singing holiday songs, or volunteering to help those less fortunate... 

     
  • Prepare for changes in routines and situations ahead of time to avoid facing unexpected changes or surprises.  Although some changes in your regular routines are unavoidable, such as family functions (including social functions), consider asking your host questions so that you will know what to expect, such as:
    • How many people will be there? Who will be there? 


    • What’s the schedule? If there is a quiet place where you can chill out if things get overwhelming. It might be as little as sitting in a quiet chair somewhere for a few minutes while you recover. 


    • Make a plan on where you can go to get a break


    • Make a plan on how you’d leave if you have to go home, e.g. cab fare, transit fare, etc. 



       

  • Limit excess demands and obligations. Especially if you are coping with depression or anxiety, accept that it might be a challenge to participate in the same way you did before.

Are you getting stressed from having too many social obligations or expectations? Do you have troubles saying no? When they ask, you can say something like: “Thank you for asking me. I appreciate you thinking about me. I’ll have to check my schedule.” It’s the holidays -- you deserve (and need) the break to rest and recover.

     
  • Connect with others. Holidays are supposed to be a time to connect with others. You might consider calling up a family member or friend and making plans to get together.



     
  • Be supportive towards others by just listening and validating. Are you having stress because you have loved ones who are unhappy? Do you feel that its up to you to fix and solve their problems? If you have loved ones who are stressed: 

    • Remember that what we want most deep down is to be accepted no matter what.
    • Start with listening
      • Be comfortable with silence -- you can be supportive by your body language, 


      • Validate how they are feeling


      • Don’t invalidate that they are feeling down

      • Don’t start by cheering them up


      • Don’t criticize them for feeling down 

         

  • Be grateful for what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. Human beings have a tendency to focus on what we don’t have, which just makes us miserable. Our materialistic culture reinforces this -- every time we watch an advertisement, it is designed to make us unhappy and want to buy things to make ourselves happier.  The good news, is that you can break this cycle by focusing on gratitude. Think about all the things that you can be grateful for, rather than focusing on what you don’t have. 



     
  • Be financially responsible so you don’t cause added stress later. Do you find holidays a financially stressful time?  If so, consider: 

    • Set a limit on your holiday, gift and food shopping. Remember that you cannot buy happiness. 


    • Give homemade gifts to others. Nothing says I love you than the gift of time.


    • Start a family gift exchange rather than having to buy presents for everyone in the family. 


    • Shop online during the daytime when you are well rested and not later in the day when you are tired and more impulsive. 

       

  • Learn about crisis resources over the holidays should they be required. In the event Because holidays can be stressful, ask your professional supports ahead of time: “What supports can I turn to if I’m in a crisis over the holidays?” Specific ones might vary, but may include a local crisis line, mental health walk-in clinic, or nearest emergency department.  




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Holidays

Q. How do I survive difficult family and relatives?
 
A.  First, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that everyone has stresses with their family, and then: 
  • Try to see things from their perspective, and how stressful life must be for them if they get so easily stressed out and/or cause stress to others.

  • Be grateful that you aren’t so stressed out over things. 

  • Be empathetic and supportive: “Yes, I can see this is stressful for you. How can I be helpful?” 

  • Model self-compassion: “You’re right, it’s not perfect. That’s okay. Life is imperfect. And that’s okay…” 

  • Remind them of what’s important: “I’m just grateful that we’re together -- not all families are so fortunate.”

Q. How do I deal with excessive materialism over the holidays? 
 
A. Remind yourself what the holidays are supposed to be about -- time to reconnect with ourselves and with family. Usually what your loved ones want the most, is simply your time. 
 
Q. How do I deal with loneliness? 
 
A. In modern society, there is often a pressure to be constantly social with others. As a result, when it is not possible to be with others, some people may feel sad and lonely. 


 
Do consider:
  • Doing something special just for yourself. 

  • Inviting a friend or relative to do something together.  

  • Seeking out community events. 

  • Seeking out religious events. 

  • Sign up for some class or activity, e.g. yoga classes. 

  • Volunteering at a senior’s residence, a homeless shelter, a woman’s shelter, Humane society, or some other social cause... 

  • Avoid the temptation to watch movies or television if you are lonely; seeing all the artificially happy lives of people on television will just make you more depressed. And all the advertisements will trick you into wanting to buy more stuff to make yourself more happy, which it won’t...

Q. I'm alone on Christmas day! What can I do?
 
A. Consider planning something special for yourself in advance, such as: 
  • Watching a favourite movie

  • Making a favourite meal

  • Reading the book that you’ve wanted to read 

  • If you don’t want to spend Christmas Day alone, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or some other activity helping others...

Q. Holidays are difficult because I’ve lost close people. How do I deal with grief from having lost loved ones? 
 
A. It’s normal to feel sad, especially over holidays, if you have lost a loved one. Allow your feelings to come out, and cry if you need to. Crying is the body’s natural way of grieving and moving on from grief. In order to move on, honor the memory of your loved one, and then find other connections (people, and activities) that give you purpose and meaning.
 
Q. How do I deal with the holidays when I have my own mental health issues?
 
A. Dealing with the holidays can be particularly difficult when people have a mental health condition. With problems such as depression or anxiety, certain situations during holidays may be particularly stressful such as exposure to alcohol and large family gatherings. Having to attend large family gatherings and socialize may be sensory overload, and can also be overwhelming with social anxiety.
 

Coping strategies include: 
  • Go to any events when it’s quieter, such as going early and leaving early. 

  • Plan ahead to have a chill out zone where you can go to chill out, e.g. going back to your car, or crashing in a quiet(er) room somewhere. 

  • Doing online shopping instead of going to loud, crowded malls

For More Information 

CMHA Nova Scotia Division (2016). Seasons of Tidings and Joy? Mental Health and the Holidays. Retrieved Dec 29, 2016 from  https://shawglobalnews.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/cmhaholidayrelease20161.pdf 
 
Grudic, J. (2016, Dec 22). Planning a ‘perfect’ Christmas may be dangerous for your mental health: expert. Global News. Retrieved Dec 29, 2016 from  
http://globalnews.ca/news/3143621/planning-a-perfect-christmas-may-be-dangerous-for-your-mental-health-expert/ 
 
Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre. (2016, Dec 6). Surviving the Holiday Season.  Retrieved from http://www.theroyal.ca/tete-a-tete/surviving-the-holiday-season/ 

About this Document

Written by members of the eMentalHealth.ca team at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute, and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. 

Reviewed by members of the Mental Health Information Committee at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

License

Under a Creative Commons License. You are free to share, copy and distribute this work as in its entirety, with no alterations. This work may not be used for commercial purposes. 

Disclaimer

Information in this fact sheet may or may not apply to your child. Your health care provider is the best source of information about your child’s health.
Date Posted: Jan 30, 2017
Date of Last Revision: Jan 30, 2017

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