Jessica Dorner

Going into the holiday season brings mixed emotions for a lot of people. Sometimes there is family tension or a painful loss. Maybe the stress of entertaining or being with a group of people triggers anxiety. For some, loneliness is difficult to cope with during the holiday season and depression can deepen. Whatever you’re experiencing, chances are you’re not alone. I’ve gathered up some of my favorite tips to cope with stress during the holiday season. If you are struggling with your emotions or feeling overwhelmed this holiday season (or anytime, really) you may benefit from consulting with a professional therapist. If you are experiencing thoughts about death or suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255] or chat online here. You can also contact the Crisis Textline for support by sending a text message to 741741.


Probably my favorite way to quickly bring myself back to center during a stressful situation is taking a few deep breaths. It’s easy to roll your eyes or write off this tip, but I’m telling you – it helps. Even if just enough to get you into a space where you can take the next step. Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a tool you can use in the moment or practice in preparation for a stressful event.

Ground Yourself

When you feel caught up in the past or the future, grounding techniques can help you be present in the here and now. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique takes you through your 5 senses to bring your attention back to the moment you’re in. Coping Skills for Kids  has some great resources and a nice description of the technique you can use right now.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

We often only acknowledge our “positive” feelings and try to push down feelings we’ve labeled as “negative”. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are no bad or negative feelings, just uncomfortable ones. So here’s the thing…avoiding those uncomfortable feelings doesn’t make them go away. In fact, you may find them bubbling up at inopportune times when you are distracted or exhausted from trying to keep them buried. The key here is awareness and the next step is acceptance. One way to let out uncomfortable feelings is saying them out loud or writing them down. For example, saying out loud (even to an empty room) “I feel hurt because Janice hasn’t spoken to me since last year, even though I’ve reached out to her” can help you start to process and release some of the discomfort. Processing especially uncomfortable feelings can be done in a therapy setting if you find them especially sticky. Further reading on why feeling bad is good and journaling to help manage emotions.

Set Aside Differences

This one is pretty self explanatory. Setting aside differences during holiday celebrations can take the stress and pressure off. It doesn’t mean the problem is solved…and ignored problems don’t just disappear, so you’ll need to address issues in the future, but it’s ok to step back and enjoy the day.

Recognize Your Limitations

You are allowed to say no. As a matter of fact, I challenge you to say no to at least one request this holiday season! Just because someone asked for your help doesn’t mean you have to say yes.Stating your boundaries and limitations before being asked can help clarify ahead of time. Calling Aunt Edna to let her know you’ll be out of town this Thanksgiving, but would like to get lunch the first week in December. You cannot be everywhere at the same time, this is a human limitation that hasn’t been solved by science yet. It’s okay.

Saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else: Saying yes to eating healthy means saying no to indulgent desserts, saying yes to a big family trip might be saying no to splurging at Target, saying yes to an extra project is saying no to extra family time. The reverse is also true: saying no to the 7th secret Santa gift exchange at work may mean you can say yes to surprising someone special of your choosing with a small gift. Something to think about: Does the request line up with your schedule, your priorities, and your values? If yes – go for it! Does the request make you feel over committed or stress you out? If yes, consider saying no.

Ask for help and allow those around you to decide for themselves whether they’re able to help. Don’t choose for them by not asking. When asking for help from kids, do what you can to make it fun! Making desserts? Have them help mix and taste test! Wrap gifts while watching a fun holiday movie!

Recognize financial limitations by setting a budget for gifts and sticking to it. Shopping online can help you stay on track and save you time! Watch for deals on free shipping and holiday promo codes.

Don’t Abandon Healthy Habits

Sometimes healthy habits get derailed during the holiday season. Simple things can help, like eating at home before heading to a party, bringing a healthy food option, skipping seconds, drinking a glass of water between sodas or alcoholic beverages, and making a plan with a relative or friend to stay accountable. Don’t forget about sleep! As much as you can, maintain your regular sleep schedule, avoid heavy meals and alcohol late in the evening, maintain your exercise routine, and take time to power down in the evening. Yes, I’m suggesting going screen free for at least an hour before bed and yes, it actually helps. Instead, try taking a relaxing bath or shower, do some meditation or breathing exercises (remember the 4-7-8 breathing we talked about up top?), listen to soothing music, or read a book.

Feeling Lonely?

This time of year isn’t all rainbows and sunshine for everyone. If you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone. One way to help beat the loneliness this holiday season is by reaching out to family, colleagues, and friends. Connecting face to face for a cup of coffee or a walk can make a difference for you and for them. Volunteer at a shelter, charity, or hospital. The benefits of helping others is far beyond the impact on those you are helping directly.

Feeling down about having no where to celebrate? One option is to embrace time alone by doing something you enjoy that keeps your mind active: reading books, coloring, journaling, watching a series on Netflix (old or new!). When your mind is focused on the positive, there’s less room for the gloomies. If the loneliness seems to be more pervasive or long lasting, consultation with a therapist may be helpful. If you are experiencing thoughts about death or suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255] or chat online here. You can also contact the Crisis Textline for support by sending a text message to 741741.

Start the Day with Something You Enjoy

Whether it’s a cup of coffee by the window, a brisk walk, listening to some music you enjoy, or maybe attending a yoga class – you can set the stage for a great day by starting it with something you enjoy.

A great resource for help with specific stressors is the Holiday Stress Resource Center from the American Psychological Association. They cover topics such as difficult conversations with family, financial stress, pressure of gift giving, and managing expectations. Check it out here.

Happy Holidays!

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