8 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress

December 14, 2020

Ah, the holiday season of peace and goodwill toward all. There may be some peace and goodwill around, but it doesn’t reach us all, does it? For some, holidays are a time of joy, but for many others, this time of year can be a time of great stress and anxiety. For those of us in recovery, with personal and sometimes family battles raging all the time, the holidays can be a very distressing and triggering time.

From office parties and endless commercials urging us to spend more and feel inadequate if we aren’t delighting in the ‘festivities,’ to alcohol-sodden secret Santa gifts and anguish over family quarrels and demands, the urge to run and hide until mid-January can be very strong indeed.

We feel such pressure to have a good time and be happy around the holidays, but why? Why do we have to be? If you’re unhappy on the 20th December, why *should* you be happy on the 25th? Of course, it’s great if you can be, but when the pressure for happiness becomes another stick to beat ourselves with, it’s time to drop it!

My wish for you is that you have a day to take care of yourself, give and receive love, and go to bed at the end feeling that you have done your best. Christmas aside, this is my for you every day of every year. If, however, you are feeling anxious about how to get through the holidays without having a meltdown, these tips might help.

Let go of ‘perfect’

Magazine covers, movies, TV shows, and advertisements paint a picture of what holidays *should* look like. Most of the time, these ideas of “perfect” cost a lot of money, hours of time and—let’s be honest—set designers! If your tree and ‘Christmas table’ don’t look like they belong in the pages of Good Housekeeping magazine, does it really matter?

It is just one day

If it is really overwhelming for you to deal with a certain holiday, just remember, it is a day just as long as any other, and very soon, it will all be over. Keep breathing and let it pass.


My go-to practice when life threatens to overwhelm me is to breathe. Taking a few deep breaths in a moment of stress, can transform how you feel in that moment, and take you from anxious to calm in just a few moments. The practice in this video is a simple, effective breathing strategy that can really help you to find calm quickly.

Find Gratitude

Whenever life feels tough, reflecting on reasons for gratitude can be uplifting and help put life into perspective. No matter how challenging life can be, there will always be something you can find to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant that thing is, anything positive helps (even if it’s just ‘I’m breathing!’)

Let it go

No, I am not talking about singing that song from Frozen, although the words are rather magnificent! When we fall into rumination and negative thinking, it is really helpful to have a way to release that tension and overthinking. There are many ways to do this. Here are some of my favorite practices.

  • Go for a walk.
  • Write down how you feel and burn the paper.
  • Put on your favorite music and dance.
  • Talk to a friend (online or offline).
  • This throwing out practice.


Self-care is our best friend when it comes to beating stress, especially during the holidays. We get pulled in so many different directions this time of year, with so many people putting demands on our time. There is so much perceived obligation to do things for other people, it can be easy to forget that we need to take care of ourselves. In recovery, at this most triggering time of year, self-care is so important to help us stay well.

Help others

All spiritual traditions understand the importance of helping others. One way you can turn the tables on holiday anxiety, and make it truly memorable and meaningful, is to give to others. This help doesn’t necessarily have to be financial. There are plenty of ways we can help others that don’t cost a great deal of money. Look out for, and spend time with your elderly neighbors! Run errands for them, help them wrap Christmas gifts, or just make sure they are not alone. You could help out at a local homeless shelter, offer support to your local recovery community, or at your church. Look to see where in your community support is needed, and give what you can.

Just say no

Not in the Nancy Reagan sense (because we all know that didn’t work), but let’s remember we can say no to the demands and requests of others. This falls under self-care, but I think warrants its own section, because we are generally so bad at it!

You are perfectly within your right to do things the way you want to do them this holiday season. You don’t have to go to the boozy parties and visit the relatives that you actually can’t stand just because it is Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. You don’t have to put yourself in any situation that will trigger you.

Obviously, I am not advocating ignoring the needs of anyone else completely, but remember that your recovery is more important than ‘family traditions’ and colleagues’ hurt feelings. It is okay to take care of what you need for your wellbeing.

The holidays have become a massive millstone around people’s necks, and often brings anxiety rather than the joy it promises. Don’t buy into the hype, and make this holiday period one that soothes and nourishes your soul and your health rather than depletes it.

Please tell us how you manage holiday stress. Share in the comments what works best for you!

Esther is from Wales in the UK. She beat 20 years of alcoholism and drug abuse at the age of 41 when she trained to be a yoga teacher. She has been sober since Oct 12, 2014, and has written a book about her adventures (Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga).

Esther loves music, Yoga, her babies (three human sons and one dog daughter), walking in the hills and at the coast, and dancing like no one is watching (even when she is at the grocery store!). She is passionate about the power of Yoga to create health and happiness, and believes that through its transformational power, and particularly learning to breathe, we can create space, peace, healing and joy in our lives.

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