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Unpacking Holiday Stress & Healthy Coping Strategies: A Provider’s Guide for 2023

A therapist and their client seated at a café table in wishbone chairs, with the therapist taking notes on a clipboard.

The holidays are a common source of stress for many people. And its impact on mental health can’t be overlooked. Alma hopes to ease some of this holiday stress by sharing healthy coping strategies that therapists can share with their clients. This guide has been updated for 2023 and includes new content and strategies for providers.

What’s causing holiday stress in 2023?

Familiar sources of holiday stress include areas like:

  • Extensive travel
  • Increased spending on gifts
  • High expectations on what the holiday season should look like
  • Spending time with family that you may not see often
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

That being said, there’s also the likelihood of growing stress tied to the growing prices of necessary consumer goods like groceries, oil, and transportation.

There’s also the long-term psychological impacts of the collective trauma experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic that’s still impacting people today. Growing global conflict also contributes to stress this holiday season and beyond.

Who is most vulnerable to holiday stress

Most demographics experience holiday stress to an extent, but some groups tend to stress out more than others.

A study created on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that Hispanic adults experience holiday stress at a higher rate when compared to adults of other racial and ethnic groups. More specifically, this group is more likely to worry about contracting COVID-19 at a holiday gathering and being able to afford/find holiday gifts. Also, women have historically experienced more holiday stress that’s rooted in areas like working longer hours at work, preparing family celebrations, and planning/buying gifts. That said, both men and women feel a sense of duty to create the best holiday experience for their families.

People with an income between $30,000-$50,000 have a higher likelihood of feeling stressed over the holidays. People in this income range worry about fulfilling costly holiday expectations while not drowning themselves in credit card debit.

Why it’s important to have coping strategies for the holidays

The holidays have an annoying habit of stretching people too thin – which partly explains why stress during this season is so pervasive. People are working longer hours, spending more money, and any existing life issues are likely being magnified.

This increase in responsibilities causes the brain’s prefrontal cortex to work overtime. The primary role of this brain region is to carry out thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. It’s also in charge of executive function, which refers to our ability to discern conflicting thoughts, future consequences, and expectations.

Left unchecked, providers may find that holiday stress can lead to more significant issues down the line for clients.

Triggers of holiday stress

Triggers can stem from a variety of emotional cues, but the most common triggers that likely agitate clients during the holidays are:

  • Family interaction/ toxic relatives
  • Dealing with large crowds/ holiday parties
  • Pressure to find the perfect gift
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Going back to hometown/childhood home
  • A lack of sunlight
  • Traveling
  • Timely deadlines/ busier work schedules
  • Having children home from holiday break
  • External pressure to seem successful/ happy
  • Living up to societal/family expectations

Holidays also tend to highlight any large changes that may have recently occurred in a client’s life. This includes events like a divorce, death, job loss, recent move, etc. Providers should be extra vigilant regarding any past triggers or experiences that may upset clients.

Coping strategies for the holidays

With a better understanding of holiday stress, let’s move onto healthy coping strategies for the holidays that providers can share to better position their clients for the coming months. Strategies should be chosen based on their relevance for each client.

Don’t abandon healthy habits

Indulging over the holidays is expected, but too much overeating mixed with a long break from physical activity can negatively impact those who partially or fully rely on exercise and a healthy lifestyle as a source of happiness.

Advising clients to stay active and to make a healthy effort during the holidays can be really helpful. This can be as simple as taking walks around the neighborhood in the morning or even varying food intake to include more nutritious foods. In addition, providers should emphasize the importance of a good night’s sleep for stress management.

Make time for yourselves

Giving to the people closest to us is the spirit of the holiday season, but ignoring your own well-being won’t benefit anyone. Clients should understand that they still matter and are important, even during the holidays. And it’s essential people make time for themselves to do things that bring them happiness.

Whichever way your client prefers to indulge in self-care, remind them to take part in these acts even if they’re traveling or with family. This is especially true for parents that are already limited on free time.

Seek out a sense of community

From online groups to volunteer soup kitchens, folks can find belonging in a number of places. Having people to speak with can work to put stressful situations into perspective and offer relief when it’s needed most. Volunteer organizations are hungry for help this time of year and are usually accessible all across the country.

Set realistic expectations

People may hold onto warped, unrealistic ideas of the holidays that’s fed to them from social media and other sources. Truth is, this season doesn’t have to be perfect. And learning to navigate and grow with changing life circumstances is part of being a healthy adult.

This can mean putting aside any immediate disputes with toxic family members and working to be civil, in the spirit of ensuring a more positive experience for everyone else.

Deep breathing exercises / Mindfulness apps

More immediate relief can be found in the form of deep breathing exercises. Most people take short, shallow breaths that can increase anxiety and deplete their energy. But taking deep breaths and exhaling at a slower pace can work as a natural stress reliever whenever the holidays get to be too much.

Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, also promote mindfulness and the importance of being in the moment. The best part of these apps are their ease of use, they can be downloaded for free and can be used anywhere.

Remind people what they’re thankful for

Good health is enough to be thankful for. Preach the benefits of a positive mindset and work to steer focus towards the positives in peoples’ lives. Good exercises for promoting a healthier mindset include keeping a personal journal that highlights the silver linings in life and saying positive affirmations aloud each day.

Explore the power of no

Everyone needs to protect their boundaries, and saying no to things that negatively impact someone’s mood or wellbeing is necessary for when holiday expectations become too much.

Limit alcohol use

Excessive drinking can aggravate existing issues and cause more problems than they fix. If a client is prone to alcoholism, providers may want to promote self-care activities they feel would resonate with that particular client.

Let clients know if/when they can reach out

Your availability can mean the world to your clients and full transparency regarding your schedule should really help deal with any current stress. And if you aren’t available, providing information on sources they can turn to is always appreciated.

Everyone deserves a break during the holidays, this includes those that are prone to stress or are experiencing some type of hardship during the holiday season.

Life gets tough, and having a providers or other mental health professional is one of the most powerful ways to build coping strategies for the holidays. And by having a profile on Alma’s exclusive provider directory, providers are in a better position to reach those that need their services most.

For more information on how Alma works to make life easier for providers and clients alike, click here to read up on Alma’s benefits. 

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Merhawi Kidane

About the Author

Merhawi Kidane is a content marketer who helps SaaS companies attract and convert online traffic with the help of the written word (blogs, case studies, emails, landing pages, web copy, social posts, sales enablement pieces, and more).

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