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Chasing adventure & living mindfully while parenting through mental illness

Holiday Stress: Tips for Handling Troubles and Triggers

Holiday Stress: Tips for Handling Troubles and Triggers


The holidays are officially here. I was never a gung-ho holiday lover until I had kids. Now I am totally Christmas Cuckoo (and I'm sure many of you are Hung Up on Hannukkah or Ramadan Rabid or Solstice Silly. I could go on, but I'll spare you). That all said, the holidays are notorious stressors. Something about the season makes trouble feel more weighty and makes little triggers send us off-kilter. Here are some tips to cope with the different kinds of holiday stress.


Holiday shopping can sometimes be a trigger. There is a need to keep up with others, or you get swept up in the marketing, leading you to stretch your budget. A few ways to help stick to a budget:

  • Go shopping online. It can reduce the need to make splurge add-on purchases. You can hold items in your cart over night and see if they are necessary. You can shop for deals, and more easily keep your purchases under your limit.
  • Use a simple formula for everyone on your list. A lot of people like "want-need-wear-read". Or maybe something for all seasons. I've had friends do only "experience" gifts, which have lead them to do creative scavenger hunts, classes together, or pooling resources to get someone a class they've always wanted to try.
  • suggest an exchange if you have a big family, or a gift draw; sometimes the gift games are even better than the obligatory gift.


Every family, even the most nuclear, has some sort of dynamic. Either there is a rogue relative no one wants to confront, a couple who are on the outs, etc. There are many ways people can rub each other the wrong way. If you happen to be dreading dealing with these as the holidays come up, Captain Awkward is a great resource. There are scripts for dealing with coming out to conservative family members, setting boundaries with someone who doesn't understand boundaries, how to back out of the holidays with abusive family members, advice for gift giving after family split-ups, and much much more.


Loss around the holidays is particularly difficult. I have been through several years of family members passing away around the holidays. A few things to remember:

  • It is okay to not know what to say. Often it is better to sit in silence than to try and make everything better. I really struggle with this, because I always want to say the perfect thing. But sometimes there is no way words alone can make a situation better.
  • People grieve differently. Some people need to avoid other people for awhile, so they check out. Some people need to be around everyone and act as if everything is normal. Some people don't know how to process their grief. Communicate your needs. Express, simply, how you cope with grief. And, most importantly, cut others some slack if they cope differently than you.
  • There will be other holidays. You are not missing anything that will not happen again just because this year was tough. Don't force yourself (or others) to be happy if you aren't really feeling it. Use radical acceptance skills and accept that the holiday is not what you had planned.

There are certainly other problems that contribute to holiday stress. The Mayo Clinic has a good set of basic rules for lowering holiday stress. If you have disordered eating, here are some strategies. PTSD also tends to flair up during the holidsay. If you have family members who suffer from mental illness, please research how to be an ally to them.

Vancouver Christmas Market

Vancouver Christmas Market

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