4 Common Causes of Holiday Stress and Simple Strategies for Overcoming All of Them

Christmas is just around the corner. Here are seven strategies to help us deal with four common causes of holiday stress. Whether we eagerly anticipate the holidays or drag our feet with dread, many of us will experience at least a few anxious moments over the next few weeks.

7 Strategies for Overcoming 4 Common Causes of Holiday Stress

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A little disclaimer: I am not a therapist, psychologist or any other credentialed expert. This is merely based on my own experience and watching others around me. If you are dealing with serious or chronic feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, or other such circumstance, I encourage you to seek out a competent Christian counselor.

This post is packed with valuable information. To make it easier to put these strategies into action, I’ve made you a cheat sheet that summarizes the key points and also includes a list of additional free resources you may find helpful. Just click the image or button below to request the cheat sheet and I’ll email it to you instantly!

Send me that FREE cheat sheet, please!

Four Common Causes of Holiday Stress

Most of the stress we feel at this time of year can be traced to one (or some combination) of the four common causes below.

1. Change is Always Hard

Whether it is good change or bad change, change is hard for most. During the holidays, so much changes. Here are a few things that may bring about changes to our everyday lives during the holidays.

  • Routines & Schedules.  Our basic routines and schedules are turned upside down. Kids are out of school, our work schedules often change, and many of us travel to celebrate with family or friends.
  • People. We will likely be around different people. We may be gathering with extended family we only see a few times a year (or decade). Or we may be around the same people we normally are, but be relating with them in different circumstances (office holiday party, anyone?).
  • Responsibilities. We take on holiday related obligations and responsibilities. We shop for gifts, plan travel or special occasion menus or activities, host guests, or any number of things not on our regular to do lists.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Whether we put them on ourselves or have them thrust upon us by others, the need to measure up produces stress. With the introduction of Pinterest, we now have a new source for ridiculous expectations. Avoid making unhelpful comparisons.

3. Challenging Relationships

I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t have at least one relationship that causes anxiety or conflict. For many, the most challenging relationships are within one’s family. And guess who we are likely to be gathering with this week or over the Christmas holidays?

4. Reminders of Loss or Difficulties

Because of the seasonal, cyclical nature of holidays, they naturally result in us comparing this year to past holidays. If we have experienced a significant loss, we may find numerous reminders during the holidays. We might have lost a loved one, a marriage, a career, or made a move causing us to leave behind friends, family, and familiar surroundings. The holidays can heighten the stress related to those losses.

Seven Strategies for Overcoming Holiday Stress

Those four common causes can produce an infinite number of specific stressful situations. Your list may include:  an overwhelmed schedule, the temptation to overspend, the dread of facing family members who push your buttons, the aching loss of a loved one, or any number of other specific examples of stress inducing circumstances. Whatever the specific source of stress, the following seven strategies can help us overcome our challenges.

  1. Acknowledge the challenges you face.
  2. Identify the needs you have related to each challenge.
  3. Prepare spiritually with prayer and Scripture.
  4. Strategize how to meet the needs in healthy ways.
  5. Implement the strategies to overcome the challenges and meet the needs.
  6. Assess what’s working and what’s not. Recalculate and restrategize as needed.
  7. Debrief and harvest lessons learned for next time.

To see how this process might work, let’s say you are dreading the upcoming holiday celebration because you will travel to your parent’s home and spend the day with Overbearing Oswald, your older brother who thinks he can run your life so much better than you. Use the seven strategies to meet this particular challenge without wanting to lock yourself in the bathroom until it is time to return home.

First, get real about the challenge you face. You are both adults and this pattern of behavior has been going on for years. It is highly unlikely that you will walk into Mom and Dad’s and find Oswald has had a personality transplant. So, you are likely to face the same overbearing behavior, suggestions, and criticisms he has dished out in the past.

Second, identify what needs you  have related to the challenge. Perhaps you need to get through the day without having a knock-down-drag-out fight. Or, maybe you need to stand your ground and not turn into a doormat. Maybe you need to be able to manage your emotional reaction to Oswald’s condescending tone.

Third, take the time to pray about your situation. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 ESV) Ask God to help you prepare to face this challenge. Then use a tool like this online topical bible to search the Scriptures for wisdom related to your situation. I like this particular resource because it suggests passages relevant to just about any topic. Take a look at the list of topics previously searched and you’ll see just how helpful this search tool is. Whatever your specific situation, I would suggest you review Ephesians 6:10-18.

Fourth, come up with strategies to meet the challenges and your needs in healthy ways utilizing the biblical wisdom derived from the previous step. Now is a great time to enlist the wisdom of a spiritual and relational mentor. Or, if you have a therapist, make an appointment to come up with some strategies. Even if you are doing this alone, pray, reflect, and think through what has worked for you in the past or helped in similar situations. Brainstorm how you can respond when Oswald bears down with a condescending comment or unsolicited advice.

Fifth, put your plan into action. Once you have spent time preparing for what may seem like an emotional battle, take the field and utilize the well thought out strategies.

Sixth, assess what is working and what isn’t. The old saying that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy may hold true for your plan to deal with Overbearing Oswald. Don’t panic and revert to knee-jerk, unhealthy and unproductive reactions. Instead, recalculate and come up with a new strategy to find your way around the unexpected roadblocks encountered by your original strategy. Take a short time out to pray and regroup. Then re-engage and continue to relate to Oswald in healthy ways.

Finally, when you get home, debrief. You may find it helpful to enlist your friend or therapist in this debriefing session. There are valuable lessons you have learned. Take time to harvest those. They will help you plan for the next time you and Oswald spend time together.

Get Your Free Cheat Sheet With Additional Resources

I’ve made you a cheat sheet that summarizes the four common causes of stress during the holidays and the seven strategies for dealing with those causes. I’ve also compiled a list of additional articles that you might find helpful as you put these strategies into action. Just click the image or button below to request the cheat sheet and I’ll email it to you instantly!

Send me that FREE cheat sheet, please!

I will be praying for you over these next few weeks. I pray that you will have a wonderful, healthy, happy holiday season.

Question: What stresses you out and can you see how these strategies might help? Do you use other strategies? If so, please share yours; they might be just what someone else needs! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I hope you'll jump into the conversation by leaving a comment. I would love for each post to be like a dinner party conversation in which many people participate, each adding their own perspectives and ideas. Just keep in mind that we want to treat others as we would like to be treated, so please keep your comments constructive and on topic. Feel free to post viewpoints and ideas that differ from mine or others but refrain from personal attacks or offensive language. I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or which demean or belittle another member of the Making It Real community.

  • Lori

    Love your post, Laura! This message is such a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of the messages we are receiving. Thank you!

    • Thanks Lori! Hope you found a little something in the post to help make your holidays less stressful and more grace-full. Thanks for stopping by my blog and dropping in to comment. I love the opportunity to connect with my readers!

  • Davi

    While holidays in our family are certainly NOT stress FREE, I do think they are far more grace-filled and joyful than they once were! Our secret has been to create traditions that help us keep Jesus at the center of it all. Some of the little things we do: We plan and cook holiday meals together-all of us donned in aprons squeezing into the kitchen together. We blast (oh yeah!, loud :-)) worship/Christmas music through the house as we tackle the housework. We focus as a family on giving to others (this Thanksgiving we’re volunteering at a Turkey Trot that supports our local food bank, then we will be running in it). And we make an extra effort in our prayers and actions to be mindful of the One for whom these holidays were created to honor and praise. We are truly blessed!

    • Awesome ideas! Thanks so much for sharing with us! It is amazing how the stress level goes down as our focus goes up to the One it needs to be on. Sure sounds like it is going to be a wonderful time at your home over the next few weeks!!

  • Jennifer

    I read this last week…..but I needed to REread today after the Thanksgiving, extended-family filled weekend! With the next extended-family gathering only a few weeks away, I have my work cut out for me! Thank you for the step by step plan…..I just love it! I need to do more praying in these next few weeks and come up with some new strategies, besides just being plain annoyed!

    • I’m right there with you! Prayers for a well-strategized and wonderful Christmas season! Check out Davi’s comment below for some great ideas, too.

      • Jennifer

        I did see them and I LOVE them! I plan to be blasting Christmas music all month! 🙂

  • Lori:)

    Re-reading this post, as “the holidays are upon us, the holidays are upon us!!”. Appreciate your timeless words of wisdom!

    • Hard to believe it is holiday time yet again! They have snuck up on me. So glad you found the post helpful. I appreciate you taking a moment to leave me a comment.