If You’re Feeling Stressed, You Aren’t Alone

Prioritize Self-Care During the Holiday Season

courtney ruth


Illustration by Cindy Kang

In a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline, sixty-two percent of the respondents expressed having elevated stress levels during the holiday season, and only 10 percent reported having no stress during “the happiest season of all.” To better understand why there is added stress around the holidays, we spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert, a Social Psychologist and the Head of Research at PsychologyCompass.

According to Dr. Gilbert, “The holidays are tough for many — we see spikes in stress and depression even during normal years. This likely occurs for a couple of reasons. First, the holidays are filled with pressure (e.g., buying gifts, end-of-year deadlines, high expectations). Second, the holidays remind people of what they don’t have or have lost (e.g., family members who have passed on, being alone for those without close family or friends, comparing yourself to others who seem to have the “perfect holiday experience”). The pandemic, of course, adds an extra layer of anxiety and isolation.”

As Dr. Gilbert touched on, 2020 carries additional stress. In fact, Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S, shares how with ever-present COVID-19 concerns, “this holiday season is even riper for challenges, misunderstandings, and complexities than ever before.” If this resonates, we wanted to share a few practical tips about remaining grounded during this time.

In addition to interviewing Dr. Gilbert and Louis Laves-Webb, we heard from upwards of 30 therapists, psychologists, and life coaches. When asked to share practical tips and resources for people experiencing loneliness and stress during the holidays, everyone mentioned the importance of self-care.

Here are some timely recommendations for self-care during the holiday climate we find ourselves in:

1.Practice setting boundaries. According to Shanon Henry, Psy.D, it takes courage to buck the trend and exercise your “NO” muscle. When we take care of ourselves, we have more to give, and we can offer ourselves out of fullness, not exhaustion.

2.Acknowledge. This year is going to be different and the first step toward shifting our perspectives, according to Darleen “Coach Dar” Santore, Chief Kindness Officer of Kindli, is to “acknowledge right now this year is going to be different…accept the reality of it and then shift to what we still can do.”

3.Set a budget. One of the primary stressors reported in the Healthline survey, as mentioned earlier, was money. To combat this, Dr. Wyatt, a licensed psychologist and author of a new marriage book, recommends setting a budget to avoid adding debt stress to everything else.

4.Exercise: Dr. Brenda Wade, a clinical psychologist, and advisor to Online For Love, suggests carving out time to exercise. According to Dr. Wade, “exercise revs up your body’s systems and cranks up production of the feel-good hormones and positive neurotransmitters. Even if you don’t feel the energy to start a whole routine, when all else fails, just dance till you drop!”

5.Plan for the unconventional. To remain connected while apart, Dr. Tania Paredes, LCSW, suggests reaching out to friends and family ahead of time to set up a scavenger hunt, a wine tasting, painting, all via ZOOM. You can even set up a virtual turkey coloring contest for the kids in your family.

6.Ask for help. If you are struggling, Anjani Amladi, MD, suggests talking to someone about it. An objective party can help you process difficult times, especially loss and the painful emotions that come with it.

7.Take a moment. Rohini Ross, LMFT, encourages everyone to take a moment to remember that no matter how intense emotions can feel, they are temporary and will pass. If your friends or family are exhibiting suboptimal behavior, remember that their behavior reflects their state of mind and isn’t personal.

8.Journal. to reduce anxiety and increase wellbeing, Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed Psychotherapist, Certified Somatic Therapist, and LMFT, suggests taking 15 minutes a day to write. According to Christine, “expressive writing helps us tap into our authentic voice, helps us organize our thoughts, and helps us begin to give meaning to what hurts and what happened, which can help us break free of clinging to old stories of abuse, neglect, and trauma.”

9.Take action. Dana Humphrey shares how easy it is to lose our sense of identity while caring for others or dealing with the everyday hustle and bustle of life. It’s essential to take action to do the things that make you feel alive. It’s up to you to make those joys come to light.

10.Create a list. According to Deedee Cummings, M.Ed., LPCC, JD, sometimes, when we get down, it is hard for us to generate a list of things we enjoy because we are already in a bad space. Having a list reminds us that there are many things we like and can do.

11.Morning meditation. As a centerpiece in staying sane and grateful, Sara Daoud, a Senior Spiritual Counselor at Passages treatment center, suggests incorporating a morning meditation ritual as a way to rise and connect with the new day. According to Sara, “trying to find the breath in a comfortable and still position helps us to greet our life.”

12.Cultivate gratitude. Abby Rosehill, specializing in holistic therapy, suggests finding three things each day that you are grateful for. “This can be something bigger like your children or something as simple as the honey you pour on your Cheerios. Think about the way the honey pours and how happy you are that you get to look forward to such a seemingly basic but lovely thing. It will lift your mood and keep you mindful of this magical life in which you presently live!”

In addition to the practical tips mentioned above, it’s noteworthy that nearly every therapist, psychologist, and life coach suggested gratitude as an antidote to the holiday blues. There’s something to this. Wherever you are and whoever you are with, virtual or otherwise, we hope these suggestions help you find your footing this holiday season.


Thinking of someone that could use your love and support this holiday season? Show them with KOYA!



courtney ruth

Co-founder of KOYA Innovations. Samba admirer. Prosecco lover. Adventure enthusiast. On a mission to make Thursdays everyone's favorite day of the week!