How To Deal With Holiday Stress

The Holidays are here, malls are decorated with bright lights and trees, cities have strings of lights everywhere and if you want to get a foot into the Distillery Christmas Market in Toronto, be prepared to be met with crowds of people. The holidays are all about joy, moments with loved ones and fancy holiday drinks from our favourite coffee shops, right? But they are also a time of massive crowds, family members that put you on the brink of snapping and stress that reminds you of studying for school finals.

What if I told you that 45% of us would like to skip over the holidays (not even have them come at all) because of how stressful they can be; that 69% of us feel stressed because we feel like we do not have enough time to do it all, 51% of us are stressed out about the gifts we should get and close to 70% of us are stressed by the financial demands the holidays bring. There’s also the windfall of emotions that come with the holidays, unmet expectations, anxiety brought on by everything from the office party to all the “fun and little” get-togethers, feeling run off our feet and for some of us there are feelings of depression that make us feel darker and colder than December nights.

The Holidays can be a lot, but like anything overwhelming in life; with a little bit of planning and some easy tips and tricks at our disposal we can make the holidays what we want them to be. Here is my list of Holiday Stress Hacks to make your season shiny and bright!

  • First, let’s acknowledge your feelings about the holidays. Like all feelings, if you try to bury them you will get the volcano effect and they are bound to erupt at some time. Was there a past death in your life that always hits you hard around the holidays? Do the holidays make you feel a bit more alone than the rest of the year? This is all completely normal. It’s okay and normal to feel sadness and grief, what’s important is that you recognize what you’re feeling and deal with it. It’s okay to cry, take time for yourself and express what’s inside. Never underestimate the power of a good cry, the catharsis of writing down your feeling on paper and knowing that this is all okay and you’re not the only one. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s holiday season, especially when carrying around the burden of unexpressed feelings.


  • Think of your goal for the holiday season and write it down! This holiday season I want to be more generous with my expressions of gratitude in whichever way that may be. This goal can be applied to everything I do this season, it means I must be more present with loved ones (putting down my phone), being forgiving of others and some of their behaviours that may annoy me, and it also means I have looked for ways I can be of service to others through volunteering time or money. Finally, in order for me to be more generous with my expressions of gratitude, it means I need to take care of me this holiday season. I am a half rate version of myself if I’m exhausted and cranky. So, what is your goal this holiday season? Write it down on a piece of paper and move on to my next tip!


  • Now, write down that to do list that is swirling around your head and keeping you up at 3 AM and nagging you on your morning commute. This may be a long list but I want you to do a complete brain dump of everything from buying gifts, baking cookies, going to parties and cleaning your home. WRITE IT ALL DOWN! Research has shown time and time again how relieving it is for the human mind to write down its stressors and writing down all of the holiday to-dos is a must. Now, I want you to go through that list and circle the absolute “Have to Do’s”, put a star beside the “Nice to Do’s” and cross off the “this is not serving me and I’m saying screw it’s”. I “have to go” to my annual girl’s “The Holiday” viewing party, it’s a way I express gratitude to the girls in my life who are there for me throughout the year and it fills me up with joy. It “would be nice” if I can make it to the neighborhood holiday party back home but it’s not a must. And “screw” making holiday cookies for every person I have said hello to this year, I may make a mean gingerbread but the baking process and time stress me out and does not help me in achieving my holiday goal. See what I did there? Go back to your holiday goal and ask if the thing on your list is helping you achieve your goal? Is it the most efficient way of achieving the goal? Does this task still seem hard? Go to my next Holiday Stress Hack.


  • Learn to say NO. Saying yes when you should have said no can leave you feeling overwhelmed, resentful and anything but merry and bright. Friends and colleagues will understand if you have to say no and you won’t be there for every Holiday activity from the office party, to the office tree lighting, and then the office after work drinks just before the Holiday itself. It’s unrealistic to be there for everything and putting unrealistic expectations on yourself is delivering a less than best version of yourself. If it’s not possible to say no to something make a compromise, maybe you only go for an hour or if you go to one gathering with a group of people (family, friend or work) then you don’t go to the next activity with the same group of people. Just remember, NO is one word, all too often we say NO and then guilt ourselves and really end up saying yes. Politely say “No, thank you for the invite but I can’t make it, I hope you have a wonderful time.” Be polite and remember most people, even if they are initially disappointed, are understanding and the person being hardest on you is usually…you. The holiday season needs to be a bit about compromise, both with others and yourself, so on we go to the next Holiday Stress Hack.


  • You need to compromise with yourself and others. You can’t do it all and this holiday will not be the same as the others before. Families change and grow and the traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few special ones to hold onto and be open to changing the others or dropping them to create space for new ones. I live with my partner of 6 years and our family is literally spread from one side of the province to the other (Windsor to Ottawa) and in order to see everyone we both had to decide which traditions we were going to have to miss out on and which ones our families would have to change a bit so we could be there. I would be lying if I said this was easy, we have done something different for the last 4 years to try and find the best fit but our families know that we are trying, and at the end of the season everyone feels loved (especially the 401) and that’s what truly matters.


  • Now with the Holidays being so family filled its best to sometimes wear the rose-coloured glasses and set aside differences. Try to accept the family members and friends as they are even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Set aside past arguments and hard feelings until a more appropriate time than the Holiday dinner table. Be understanding of others, when they lose their temper, get snarky or are being difficult, just remember they are probably feeling the holiday stress and feelings of depression too.


  • Also, watch what you say. I am not suggesting for you to walk on eggshells (or shattered ornaments take your pick), I am talking about the narrative you are creating for yourself. The more you complain about the stressful, chaotic things, the crazier you’ll feel. Even if your schedule is so booked that your calendar looks like a game of Tetris, talk about your life in positive, joyful terms. Speaking positively is uplifting and good for both your mind and body. Studies have shown that when we speak negatively our body “hears” us and perceives it as an additional stress, making the actual stress being felt amplified and leaving us feeling much worse than in the beginning. Obviously, there are times we need to talk about how stressed we are, but for your own wellbeing, it’s best not to dwell on it and make it habitual. Manage the stressors with some of the tools in the next Holiday Stress Hack:


  • Take calming breaks and plan to have calming tools and tricks at your disposal for the inevitable stressful moments of the season. I am all about our intentions, and the morning is the best time to set them. When you wake up, take a few deep calming breaths and meditate or just relax. Visualize your day going the best way possible, all the things that can go right. “Quieting down your mind before you begin your day can help it get off to a great start and things will flow for you,”(Debra Berndt). Many of the worst case scenarios we think up never happen, but thinking about them and dwelling on them brings on the stress and affects our mind and body as if they had. So start your day off with positivity and get up on the right side of the bed. Whenever you get stressed, anxious, or feel overwhelmed during the day take a quick relaxation break for a couple minutes and calm yourself down. Cookies burned? That perfect sweater for your Mum sold out? Half the tree lights are out? Stop. Take a few conscious deep breaths and go back to the positive intention and your goal of the season. You can do this quick trick anywhere but another key to the holiday season is self-care, which is a part of the next Holiday Stress Hack.


  • I define self-care as anything that rejuvenates me, calms my mind and fills me up so I can focus on what I intended to do. With the high demands of the season, many of us let our self-care slide and believe that we need to do so much for others that we drain ourselves to a shadow of who we can be. For me, my yoga practice fills me up like nothing else. I need to get on my mat, quiet my mind and then I can take on anything. During the holidays self-care can take on other forms too. Watching a favourite holiday movie with the family, and actually watching it without scrolling through your phone is a fun, easy thing to do. My family used to always watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation the Sunday before Christmas on CBC. My sister and parents and I would laugh so hard at the same things every year we would have tears rolling down our faces. For the past couple of years, we are not altogether on that Sunday but we all seem to watch it and every time I do it fills me up. Some cold winter nights, my partner, dog and I bundle up and go for a walk around the neighbourhood looking at all the holiday lights. I love just to sit and read by the Christmas tree with all the lights off except the glittering tree lights. All of these things have something in common and that’s being present in the moment. Yes, my family and I are not altogether for the movie, the tree may not look perfect, and December nights in Canada are cold but being present and not dwelling on the fact that everything is not perfect means I can take care of myself and be filled with the wonder of the season.


  • All good things come to an end. I know, I may be ending this list on a downer but it’s true. January will come, the trees and decor will come down and the impending emptiness that comes after the season will arrive. Plan to combat the January blues while easing up on the crazy schedule of December. Instead of trying to squeeze in seeing every single friend in December, make plans for a fun activity in January. Give experiences for gifts and schedule them for January, from a night of axe throwing for your boyfriend, a couples spa day for your girlfriend or an outdoor day of fun with your closest friends. Plan some pleasurable activities for January so you have something to look forward to.

Finally, seek professional help if you need it. As I said before, its completely normal and okay to have feelings of stress, grief and loneliness at this time of year but if despite your best efforts you are feeling persistently sad, anxious and overcome with physical pain and you are unable to sleep. If you are overcome with the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, are irritable and unable to do daily routine tasks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. As a Life and Success coach, I know that much of the time we can take on the Holiday season and everything that comes with it but sometimes we just can’t on our own. If you need help reach out, sometimes it’s needing a friend or close family member, sometimes it’s someone like myself who can help you reach your full potential. The important thing is knowing that you are not alone in any of this no matter what you are feeling.

Author Description

Chelsea Montgomery

Chelsea is a Toronto based Life Coach, Corporate Wellness specialist and a contributing Wellness expert. Her coaching business Growing WELLth is driven by the belief that we can all enrich our life through wellness and personal growth. After experiencing her own serious health challenges Chelsea was determined to help others in both their personal and work-life. Chelsea has a history of coaching individuals and teams to reach their fullest potential and thrive. Her insatiable curiosity of life and passion for empowering others through wellness means that she's never tired of what she does. You can often find Chelsea learning about the latest information regarding wellness, on her yoga mat, in meditation or with her Chocolate Shar Pei Mac. Follow her journey: @_chelseamontgomery @che15eam

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