Tips for parents on managing holiday stress

Tips for parents on managing holiday stress

According to a recent Stress in America survey, adults are more likely to find family responsibilities stressful than they have in the past. For many of us, the holiday season can bring an increased sense of family responsibility and, along with it, additional feelings of stress. Advertisements about the joys of the season can seem lost on us as we scurry around trying to do even more than usual. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, we may turn to unhealthy stress management behaviors such as overindulging in eating or drinking to keep going. These actions don’t help and often make us feel worse. There are better, healthier and longer-lasting techniques we can use to make holiday stress – and other stressful times – more manageable. 

APA suggests these tips to help parents effectively manage holiday stress

  • Strengthen social connections – We know that strong, supportive relationships help us manage all kinds of challenges. So, we can view the holidays as a time to reconnect with the positive people in our lives. Accepting help and support from those who care about us can help alleviate stress. Also, volunteering at a local charity on our own or with family can be another way to make connections; helping others often makes us feel better, too. 
  • Initiate conversations about the season – It can be helpful to have conversations with our kids about the variety of different holiday traditions our families, friends and others may celebrate. Parents can use this time as an opportunity to discuss how some families may not participate in the same holiday traditions as others. Not everyone needs to be the same. It is important to teach open-mindedness about others and their celebrations.
  • Set expectations – It is helpful to set realistic expectations for gifts and holiday activities. Depending on a child's age, we can use this opportunity to teach kids about the value of money and responsible spending. We need to remember to pare down our own expectations, too. Instead of trying to take on everything, we need to identify the most important holiday tasks and take small concrete steps to accomplish them.   
  • Keep things in perspective – On the whole, the holiday season is short. It helps to maintain a broader context and a longer-term perspective. We can ask ourselves, what’s the worst thing that could happen this holiday? Our greatest fears may not happen and, if they do, we can tap our strengths and the help of others to manage them. There will be time after the holiday season to follow up or do more of things we’ve overlooked or did not have the time to do during the holidays.   
  • Take care of yourself – It is important that we pay attention to our own needs and feelings during the holiday season. We can find fun, enjoyable and relaxing activities for ourselves and our families. By keeping our minds and bodies healthy, we are primed to deal with stressful situations when they arise. Consider cutting back television viewing for kids and getting the family out together for fresh air and a winter walk. Physical activity can help us feel better and sleep well, while reducing sedentary time and possible exposure to stress-inducing advertisements.

How a psychologist can help

If we continue to feel stress around the holidays, we can consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional. He or she can help us identify problem areas and then develop an action plan for changing them.

Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

Practicing psychologists use a variety of evidence-based treatments  such as psychotherapy  to help people improve their lives. Psychologists, who have doctoral degrees, receive one of the highest levels of education of any health care professional. On average, they spend seven years in education and training after receiving their undergraduate degrees. Moreover, psychologists are required to take continuing education to maintain their professional standing.

Find nearby psychologists by visiting APA's Psychologist Locator.

Thanks to psychologist Mary Alvord, PhD, who assisted with this article.

Updated November 2016