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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital


Managing Holiday Stress

Stressed woman pictured while children are fighting in the background.

The causes of stress are different for different people, but often center around relationship or emotional stress, finances, or physical stress. There are many strategies you can use to combat your triggers for stress.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The holidays can be a stressful time.  The causes of stress are different for different people, but often center around relationship or emotional stress, finances or physical stress.  There are many strategies you can use to combat your triggers for stress.  In honor of the “12 days of Christmas,” we’ve developed a top 12 list with 12 different ways to combat triggers.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings: It’s ok to feel tired, overwhelmed, sad, happy, whatever.  Sometimes just giving yourself permission to feel these things is the best way to deal with them.  
  2. Let go of things you cannot control.  You cannot control what another person says or does.  Focus instead on the things that you can control about the situation, including your response to it.
  3. Seek support. Look to family, friends and care providers for support during the holidays.  That is especially important if you have lost someone close recently or during this time of year or if you need help in handling a particular relative that you don’t care for much.   You don’t have to do it alone, and seeking and receiving the support from someone else will be a key factor in managing stress and depression. During the holidays, many people increase their use of alcohol, some to celebrate, some to help cope.  Be aware that excessive alcohol will only exacerbate your feelings of depression.  Choose instead to reach out for support to others, or to find new ways to celebrate the season.  
  4. Be realistic about your goals and expectations.  This is a time to rethink goals and expectations and adapt them to what you can reasonably expect to achieve, while still enjoying yourself. 
  5. Plan ahead – Plan ahead for bumps in the road.  Then, when they appear, you’ll be ready. 
  6. Stick to a budget.  Set limits with children’s gifts and allow yourself to say no.   Do activities that are free—looking at lights/decorations, making a snowman, sledding, ice skating, caroling.  These types of activities ARE the memories of the holidays, not the material items under the tree. 
  7. Set differences aside, look for commonalities – When faced with a difficult person who cannot be avoided, look for things that you have in common with that person.  Look for hobbies, activities, background, sports, or anything that you could have in common.  This will help provide something positive to talk about that interests you both.
  8. Learn to say no – Prioritize your holiday activities. 
  9. Take time for yourself—refuel your own gas tank! – Take a nap, call an old friend, read a magazine or a book, listen to a favorite CD, sing along with Christmas music, play on the computer, watch a movie, or take the dog for a walk.  In order to maintain a high energy level during the holidays (or at any time), you have to refuel your own gas tank by doing activities that you find relaxing or rewarding. 
  10. Do something for someone else, such as volunteering for an organization or worthy cause.  This is a great way to ensure that you don’t spend the holiday alone.  It is also a way to start a new tradition and memories and, with children, for you to help them to truly understand the spirit of the season.
  11. Forget perfection - Don’t put all your focus on “one day”—celebrate the season. 
  12. Try something new—start new traditions instead of focusing on “the good old days” - This is particularly important if you have lost a loved one to death or divorce.  Difficult as they might be, life brings changes, and we must change and adapt with them.  Instead of carrying on the family ritual without that person, change the ritual.  While it is nice to remember how things used to be, we must also focus on the future as well. 

For more information about these or other ways of managing holiday stress, visit or contact your healthcare provider at the Truman VA today!

Brought to you by the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program.


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