Coping with Family Stress During the Holidays

By Anna Kleiner | 11/20/2017

No matter who you are—or what your relationship with your family is—chances are, you’ll be dealing with some family stress during the holidays. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re worried about finding the perfect holiday gift, burning the pumpkin pie, or having to see the relative you dread every year.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Really. It doesn’t. You don’t need to plan an eleven-course meal for Thanksgiving or have a magazine-worthy Hanukkah. You don’t need to go into debt buying perfect gifts for everyone you know. You don’t have to host a New Year’s Eve party every year.

Making sure that every holiday is the best holiday ever isn’t realistic—and it isn’t good for you, either. Obsessing over details creates unnecessary stress. Stress needs an outlet—whether that’s over-eating, excessive drinking, or just creating a tense environment throughout the entire holiday. (And do you really want to be Scrooge?)

While the holidays, gifts, parties, and relatives bring with them a certain amount of stress – there’s no need to add to it with greater expectations. Instead, focus on redirecting the stress. Ask yourself what you can do to relieve that stress today, and start by identifying what you’re worried about the most. What can you do about it?

  • Can you ask for help cooking a holiday meal—or even have it catered (or go out)?
  • Can you do a gift exchange with your family, rather than buying a gift for every relative and stretching your finances?
  • Can you skip some of those holiday parties?

And don’t forget: practice stress management techniques. Try to maintain your exercise schedule. Try to make healthy food choices. And don’t beat yourself up if you eat a little too much. The holiday doesn’t have to be perfect—and neither do you.

You don’t need to get your kids everything.

This is a big one. In the United States, there’s an enormous pressure on parents to give their kids the best holiday ever. This often means getting them the latest toys and technology, even if they’re not affordable for your family. Kids know about this pressure, too—and often aren’t shy about letting you know exactly what they want. All their friends have it—in fact, everyone has it. If they don’t have it, they’ll be the only one who doesn’t and it’ll ruin their holiday, etc.

You know your kids and family best, so use your judgement to determine what gifts are most appropriate. And don’t feel the need to break the bank to get everything on their wish list. While the excitement and wonder of seeing joy in a child’s face is often worth the price, know that a child’s interest is often short-lived. It may be better to focus on only a handful of gift that are best-suited to your child. And if they don’t get that perfect gift this year, they’ll be fine. Really.

Don’t feel bad about skipping out on negative family gatherings.

Sometimes your family doesn’t behave like you’d wish. If spending time with relatives means putting up with ugly or abusive behavior, it may be better to opt out this year. While your absence (or your mother) may produce feelings of guilt, it’s important to do what you feel is best for you.

If seeing your family makes you feel stressed out and terrible, there’s no reason to see them. Or maybe your family is great, but seeing them so often is exhausting. Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need one. You don’t have to go to every family gathering—even if it is the holidays.

But if you just can’t stop stressing…

If you seem to be stressing no matter what you do, make time to destress. Practice stress management techniques throughout the holidays, such as:

  • Working out daily
  • Cuddling with pets
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating enough vitamins
  • Breathing exercises
  • Mindfulness