7 Tips to Manage Toxic Holiday Stress & Enjoy The Season

By Dana Ingram, LPC, NCC, CFTP

Prospering Hope Counseling – Melbourne, AR

For some, the holidays include joy-filled moments, happy family reunions, and long-standing family traditions, while others experience holidays filled with conflict, anxiety, and disappointment. Holidays (or any family get-together for that matter) go better if all members listen openly, communicate respectfully, and are agreeable to one another. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. How can you prepare for a dreaded holiday experience?

1 – Accept that your holiday gathering may not look like a Hallmark movie.

‘Tis the season for television and movies to show us what a “normal” family holiday should look like.  Oftentimes, what is portrayed is not our reality. Prior to your family gatherings, be honest with yourself about what you may be walking into. Acknowledging the potentials will help you prepare for the event.

2 – Be aware of who may be attending.

You know your family — don’t expect that people will have changed, but rather, be realistic and acknowledge family members for who they are. You can use that knowledge to gauge what boundaries you may need to set ahead of time to prepare for how to respond to certain individuals. 

3 – Know your triggers and have a plan for coping with them.

Prior to the event, engage in your own self-awareness. What is likely to occur that may trigger you to anger, sadness, or anxiety? What are your options when that trigger occurs? We all have a tendency to revert to our childhood selves when we are with our families. Awareness of that along with a plan for how to manage it, can assist us in de-escalating ourselves in triggering situations.

4 – Debrief with someone you trust.

Have your best friend or another trusted confidante on standby to talk to or text if things are feeling too intense.  You may even consider inviting that trusted friend to the family gathering with you. If neither option is available, have some downtime planned with that person after the event is over. Refrain from posting on social media, especially if you are feeling more emotional than normal. In the moment, we may say things that we later regret or that only serve to increase hostility within the family.    

5 – Maintain healthy habits.

In stressful situations, we tend to not rest as well, to revert to negative eating habits, or to rely on substances such as alcohol to cope. Resorting to these behaviors can make us edgier, feel increased guilt/shame, or further isolate us from positive supports. Try to rest the night before the family event and maintain some normal routines in your schedule. 

6 – Look for the positive.

Our present-moment experiences will be some version of bad or good. For family events we are dreading, we have already come into that event expecting a negative experience, and we will continually be judging it through those lenses. Make a decision before walking in the door to look for positive moments. If you feel that may be hard to do, set a goal. For instance, you might decide to walk away with at least five positive experiences for the day.  Share those experiences with someone or acknowledge them while in the moment with your family. 

7 – Lastly, it is okay to put yourself first sometimes.

If attending a holiday event with your family is likely to compromise your own mental and/or physical health, know that you can reduce the time of your visit or decline the invitation altogether. 

Working With a Counselor

At GetTherapy.com, we bring access to skilled counselors who offer effective therapy services across the state of Arkansas, including Dana and the Prospering Hope Counseling team in Melbourne. If the holidays are adding a lot of unwanted stress or triggering difficult emotions, there’s a GetTherapy.com network provider near you. When you’re ready to get started, visit us online or call 1-888-Therapy to talk to one of our knowledgeable call center staff who can find the right provider for you.


Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC