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Good Therapy San Francisco | Anxiety Therapy Specialists

How To Manage Stress Over the Holidays


Tips To Managing Stress Over The Holidays

A common issue we hear at Good Therapy SF over the holiday season is how this time of year stresses people out and managing stress over the holiday. With end of year goals for work, travel, inclement weather, making time for friends and family, etc … there is plenty for people to feel stressed and anxious about.

Below are 3 areas to focus on when managing stress over the holiday to help reduce your anxiety.

Setting Boundaries

The importance of having healthy boundaries for ourselves cannot be overstated. This is especially important during the holidays, as it can feel like there is a greater “obligation” to others. Unfortunately, as more events are listed on the calendar and time becomes less available, the ability to tactfully say no becomes an important skill.

One of the constant questions we hear around boundaries is “when am I allowed to say no?”

In general, if you feel as though you are not allowed to say no, then this is a clear sign that boundaries are something to work on. While each person is unique, we will often coach people to list their “to do’s” into three buckets:

  • what they genuinely prioritize

  • what they are only doing out of guilt

  • everything else that falls somewhere in between

We then ask clients to pick one item from the guilt bucket and have them say no / set a boundary around that activity. The more often people take this approach, the more familiar they become with how to say no.

Manage Emotions

High emotions and the holidays go hand in hand. Hopefully the highs include gratitude and joy, but frustration and guilt can be part of the holiday experience as well. When managing stress and emotions over the holiday, the most important thing is to not react to the emotion right away. Reacting to an intense, unpleasant emotion rarely works out well.

A regular question we hear about not reacting is “how do I remember this in the moment?”

It does take practice, but with some effort it is very possible to learn this skill. One way to develop this is to practice using the Label and Rank approach.

  • Sit for 10 minutes in front of a piece of paper and pen (not a phone / computer)

  • For each minute that passes, write down the emotion(s) you feel and rank the intensity of that emotion on a scale of 1 – 10

  • At the end of 10 minutes, there will be a list of 10 entries, or a record of your emotions and the intensity of each emotion

  • Repeat daily for 30 days

Doing this skill daily for 30 days develops the habit, so when faced with a challenging emotion unexpectedly, clients are more prepared. This Rank and Label skill can also be used after a difficult situation to help calm down. Just noticing emotions helps to make them less intense.

Acceptance of the situation

The holidays bring high expectations, which can also bring stress, frustration, and disappointment. For example, missing a connecting flight “isn’t supposed to happen” but fixating on what “should have” been only makes the situation more difficult. If you are having difficulty accepting the situation, try the “Pity Party for One” approach.

  • For one minute, allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself. During this time you can say “this isn’t fair” “I can’t be late for this” etc…

  • At the end of the minute check back in with yourself and try to accept the situation

  • Remind yourself that acceptance does not mean approval

  • In difficult situations, acceptance is the most helpful way to reduce our stress, frustrations and managing stress over the holiday

This skill helps sometimes as the “pity party” is a way of providing self validation when we’re lacking the ability to provide it for ourselves at that moment. It’s typically easier to accept situations after we feel somewhat validated.

A Final Word

For help with Holiday Stress and other anxiety issues feel free to reach out to Good Therapy SF.