• By Joel Streed

Mental health and the holidays: Holiday stress

November 26, 2021
a woman tired and stressed during the holidays, holding her head in her hands with presents and wrapping paper everywhere

Q: Those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 may be planning family gatherings, gift exchanges and big meals this year. After last year, a lot of people are feeling more pressure to make this holiday season even better for their loved ones. Do you have any tips for coping with the stress of it all?

A: Whenever something is important to those we love, we direct our energy toward creating the perfect experience for them. But often there are elements out of our control — including finances, past and present relationships, health and current events — that interfere with our vision of the perfect holiday season.

When we set high expectations, we can feel stressed and unhappy when we don't meet them. We may feel as if we have let down the people we love most.

"The key to coping this time of year is to set realistic expectations," says Lisa Hardesty, licensed clinical health psychologist, Mayo Clinic Health System. "Remember that it's the time you spend together and the memories that you make that are most important. That is what you will remember most."

Don't try to recreate 'perfect' holidays from years past. People change, and holidays can change right along with them. Make every season new and special in its own way. Reflect on the “lessons learned” from dealing with the pandemic and bring that sense of meaning into the holiday time. 

Don't take too much onto yourself. It's a good idea to delegate and let people help. Ask your children to decorate the front yard with Christmas lights and give them free rein on how they want to do it. Ask your dinner guests to each bring a favorite dish over the holidays and share stories about those dishes. Enlist your partner's help in wrapping presents. Even if it's not done perfectly, it's something you can do together, and you'll be done in half the time.

Be gracious when dealing with uncomfortable events or relationships. We can only take responsibility for ourselves. Our friends, family and loved ones also have this responsibility. We don't have control over their choices or if they don't choose what we think is "right." This is where grace comes in. Focus on the people, the relationships, and the time-limited nature of the holiday season.

Be OK with moments of stress and negativity that can come up. It's not realistic to think that the holiday season will be completely stress-free. The reality is that life is going on around us all the time. When difficult situations arise, acknowledge your feelings, try to be patient with yourself and others, and refocus your mind on the bigger picture: what you're truly grateful for this holiday season.

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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other facilities that serve the health care needs of people in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive highest-quality physical and virtual health care close to home.

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Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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