Coping with holiday cheer: How to manage Christmas holiday pressures

Jingle Bells is often accompanied by the unwelcomed reminder of the crippling stress of spending money, family expectations, social events, and painful memories — but there are strategies to help cope with the pressure of the holidays.

A major cause for holiday-induced stress is the pressure of high expectations put on someone by themselves, friends, or family. Tessa Martin, a registered psychologist and owner of Serenity Now Wellness, advises creating a plan before entering into the festivities.

“You can make it a healthier experience if you set healthy expectations for yourself,” she says.

Facing a high credit card statement and a low bank account is a fairly overwhelming stress come January, and according to Martin, it is vital to set limits before getting pulled into the Christmas present spending spree. 

Martin explains that being coerced by the expectations that “you need to [buy] these gifts, or you need to [see] family and friends over the holidays,” is an unhealthy and overwhelming way to handle the season. 

These pressures can have a negative impact on one’s mental health, leading to anxiety and even depression, “because you’re not going to feel good enough, or you’re going to feel overwhelmed,” adds Martin. 

“Know that it’s okay to say ‘no’. 

“Saying no is what keeps us healthy.”

Shannon McIntosh, a family therapist at the Calgary Family Therapy Centre, suggests making an effort to add self-care and a good night’s sleep into the busyness in order to stay rejuvenated.

Being honest about one’s limitations is also an important part of making the most of the season, says McIntosh. 

“Be realistic about your budget. 

“And when I say budget I don’t mean just financial budget — I mean your energy budget.”

Christmas, Christmas holiday pressures

With December only a few days away, stores and malls are gearing up for the holidays with Christmas decorations, as well as deals and discounts for gifts. (Photo by Jp Pitogo)

Keep it positive

Remembering what you’re grateful for, instead of focusing on negative stresses, is another strategy when coping with overwhelming or difficult holidays, states McIntosh

According to Martin, staying open and honest about boundaries with friends and family is a major part of having a healthier Christmas experience. 

“A lot of times we try so hard to put on this facade of ‘I’ve got this all perfectly under control,’ that we don’t think about how this is going to impact us months down the road.” 

With the festivities, alcohol is often at the forefront of events and parties, and for those who find this to be an unwelcome trigger, navigating Christmas and New Year’s is a dreaded venture.

Christmas holiday pressures

Holiday activities are now in full swing
Photo by Jp Pitogo

Set your limits, and stick to them

“Decide how you are going to manage those ahead of time, instead of putting yourself in a situation and trying to backtrack,” says Martin.

Having rules, such as staying for a maximum of two hours and having someone to call when feeling triggered or uncomfortable, can be a helpful way to cope when feeling pressured to have a drink or two.

Family dynamics can be difficult to manage, and it is helpful to feel empowered when heading into an environment known to be stressful, according to Martin. 

Predetermine the words that escalate a situation, and prepare an exit strategy, she suggests. The holidays can be “redeeming in the sense that it doesn’t replay the same dynamic that happens every year.”

“It doesn’t mean that suddenly you have a better relationship with family members, but you’re going to have a better relationship with yourself, which then makes those relationships more manageable,” she states.

If the holidays are painful times of celebrating without loved ones, Martin suggests creating traditions, and finding ways to honour them, “so it’s not about ignoring what’s going on.”

No matter what pressures and expectations are faced this holiday season, Martin says, “the most important thing is to have a plan — something that is going to take care of [you].”

Christmas holiday pressures

Holiday activities are in full swing at the Core Shopping Centre in Calgary.
Photo by Jp Pitogo

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