Managing Wellbeing during the Holidays


The holiday season often provides an opportunity to be with family and other loved ones, while ushering us towards parties, gift-giving, eating out, and other celebratory events. This seasonal whirlwind can also bring up challenges such as unwelcome guests, financial strain, stress, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A 2021 CDC report found that the anxiety and depression levels for adults aged 18-29 have doubled compared to 2020. This is most likely due to the long-lasting effects of the pandemic. The virus is still present and active, and the Omicron variant adds extra concerns as we enter the season.

With some slight shifts in your behavior, you may be able to minimize your stress, while creating a supportive environment that centers on wellbeing.

Students decorated gingerbread houses at the Carolina Union Great Hall on the last day of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tips to Manage Holiday Stress

Be realistic.

The holidays are rarely “perfect” and that means being flexible and realistic with our time, energy, and expectations. At times, family members and/or holiday time can be trigger memories of past unpleasant experiences or trauma. Communicate your needs and set healthy boundaries with family and friends, especially around COVID-19 risk mitigation. Virtual gatherings can be different, but they can also provide an opportunity for creativity as well as connections across distance. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.

Acknowledge your feelings.

Many of us have experienced loss over the last two years and many more of us are grieving a loss from some time ago. It’s ok to feel sad, and crying or expressing that sadness is normal, especially during the holidays. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and do not hesitate to ask those you’re closest to for support. 

Reach out.

As previously stated, reach out to your friends, family, and community. Human connection matters and isolation can cause us to forget the power of sharing time with others. Utilize social media, meet-ups, and other social events (safely) to make new friends or be reacquainted with friends from your past.

Set aside differences.

It can be easy to politicize current events. Try to practice a pause. Listen with empathy and pause before commenting while thinking to yourself, “Is this statement based on fact or opinion, and do I have the energy to discuss it with compassion?”. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and need some grace or space to pause and process. Also, if it’s best for you to limit interactions with specific individuals around this time, know that it is acceptable to prioritize your care during a challenging time.

Stick to a budget.

Before you do your gift-giving and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget! Look for ways to share costs with family and friends. Remember that time together or sharing experiences is the best gift we can give.

Plan ahead.

Plan, plan, plan! Having a plan minimizes stress and allows you to share work with others. This is not the time to “do everything.” Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends, and other activities. Schedule downtime so you are able to rest, relax, and restore. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Asking for support is a continuous and integral theme to holiday self-care.

Practice self-compassion.

As we all do our best to continue navigating a global pandemic while engaging with each other during this season it is imperative that we find kindness and compassion for ourselves. This will also help extend these same virtues to others during this time. Uncertainty and stress are difficult for everyone.

Consider these questions when beginning a self-compassion practice:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What does my self-talk sound like?
  • Is this self-talk something that I would say to support a small child or good friend?

Try these phrases to exercise self-compassion:

  • I am doing the best that I can right now, and that is enough.
  • This is a difficult time. It is natural to feel stressed. I am here for you.
  • I am safe and supported.

Say NO.

Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends, family, and co-workers will understand if you can’t participate in every activity or project. Saying no is a complete sentence and requires practice in self-compassion, self-preservation, and self-love.

Don’t disregard healthy habits.

In our current climate, wellbeing may or may not be top of mind. Center your wellbeing and engage in activities that boost your mood and enhance your health. These strategies make us more resilient and may improve our outlook.

Try these suggestions:

  • Have gratitude and share it, let others know you’re grateful for them.
  • Imagine the best case scenario and believe it’s possible.
  • Keep a gratitude journal (write down three things you’re thankful for, daily).
  • Give to yourself and forgive yourself.
  • Volunteer.
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt (don’t assume, ask).
  • Choose positivity.
  • Focus on food flexibility. Remember that all foods (yes, all foods!) have nutrition to offer. Savor the holiday flavors!
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Include regular movement in your daily routine.
  • Practice deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
  • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
  • Adjust the time you spend reading the news and engaging with social media.

Take a break.

Take some time to relax and be still to reset for the day or wind down at night. It also can be part of the midday recalibration. Use an app for a 5-minute meditation, or just sit quietly with or without soft music. During your quiet time, it’s also nice to replay moments of gratitude.

Seek professional help if you need it.

Caring for your health means both daily personal choices and support from professionals. Some people benefit from regular check-ins with a medical or mental health provider. Others reach out when problems persist. If you’re finding yourself experiencing physical pain, unable to sleep, unable to face routine chores, feeling sad, irritable, or hopeless – and especially if these feelings last for 2 weeks or more – talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

Take control!

Plan for and manage holiday time instead of allowing the season to manage you. Take steps to minimize the stress, anxiousness, and depression that can be amplified during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can reduce their impact. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

Other Resources:

Written by Charla Blumell, Assistant Director of UNC Student Wellness leaning on content from the Mayo Clinic, CDC and UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Student Wellness.

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