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Navigate the Holiday Season with Less Stress and More Joy

The time of year where carollers sing, “Joy to the World” can also be a very difficult time of year for many people. If you find yourself filled with stress over family events, budgets, diets, or the looming New Year, you are not alone. Perhaps you are one of the many people who find themselves thinking of lost loved ones during the holiday season- whether it is the first or fortieth year without them. You may also fit the category of someone who just finds they enjoy the season less than normal or feel like you simply have no energy to find joy this year.

If any of these experiences sound like what you are facing, here are some tips to help you navigate the season with a little more joy.


Pay Attention to your Personality.

Be mindful of what recharges you and what drains you during this busy season. Our personalities shape our social needs and the holiday season is an excellent time to practice thriving in our own skin.

  • Are you an introvert who finds social events draining? Consider planning some down time like a coffee date in a quiet cafe or an evening reading your favourite book.
  • Are you are an extrovert who thrives on social interaction? Try planning a shopping trip during the busy time at the mall or gather a group of friends to share a meal.

For those of you who share a home with an opposite personality, you might benefit from working together to plan your holidays. That way you can help find a change of pace if you notice your loved one seems a bit drained.


Eat and Exercise Thoughtfully.

For many people, the holidays are a time where we have a change of pace which means eating more and exercising less.

  • There is a strong connection showing that certain foods cause a crash in some people’s moods but exercising often leads to a boost in mood and reduction in stress.

If you find yourself feeling low energy and high stress, you may find it helpful to watch how many treats you take from the bake table. You could also find that a nice walk or some safe, reasonable exercise for your skill level can really help your mood.

As always, you should talk to your doctor before making any significant changes in your diet or exercise.


Honour Lost Loved Ones.

There is something about the holiday season that seems to heighten grief in many people. If you lost someone during the season or this is the first holiday season since losing someone, you may find your grief feels stronger than it has been in the previous little while.

  • If you miss someone this holiday season, you may find some comfort in taking time to miss them and honour their memory. Some people find it helpful to listen to their loved one’s favourite song, relive an old tradition, visit a grave, or write a letter to them. Other people may find it helpful to talk about the person they miss with another person who loved them.

There are many ways to honour a person who you miss and sometimes the most important part of this process is simply telling yourself that it is ok to miss someone who you loved and lost.


Expect Reality.

One of the greatest sources of anxiety or disappointment is unrealistic and unmet expectations. During this holiday season, try to be realistic in what you expect from yourself, your family, and your friends. Try to leave space in your schedule for things to go wrong, so that a sick child or a snow storm (both realistic events during the holidays!) does not mean a major wrench in your plans.

  • You can also think about the people around you and how they may impact your expectations for the holiday season. If you have children, it may cause more stress than joy if you hope they will sit quietly for several hours with no nap or outlet for energy – try to find ways to let kids be kids instead of planning for them to act like adults.

For yourself, remember that you do not need to have the perfect holiday feast you saw on Pinterest if that is going to cause you more stress than joy. One helpful way to approach setting realistic expectations is to make your plans based on your priorities. When you look back at the end of this season, what will tell you the season has been a success? If your priority is to have a restful break, you may need a very different schedule than if your priority is to visit every family member or friend who is significant in your life.


Seek Support.

If you try to navigate this holiday season all alone, you may find yourself drained, lonely, and lacking joy. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, even with the small things that add up or the big things that carry great weight.

  • If you know that you are hosting a large event, ask yourself if there is any way some of your guests or family members can help carry the load (many people will offer to bring something to a meal so you do not have to make the appetizer, salad, main course, dessert, and drinks). Often the large tasks can be broken down into smaller tasks and delegated when you are overwhelmed.

If you find the stresses of the season very overwhelming you could also seek support from a friend, family member, doctor or counsellor who can give you a safe space to process all that you are going through. We as humans can help bear each other’s burdens; sometimes we can be the supporter and sometimes we can ask to be supported and there is beauty in both roles.


As you listen to holiday tunes in the malls or plan trips to visit family or watch others celebrating the holidays, you are not alone if you feel less than joyful but you now have some tools to help.

–Written by: Lisa Myers, MDiv, 2014–

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