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10 Tips to Beat Holiday Stress

Along with the stress of the holiday season, frequently comes unwanted stress. Whether it’s meeting end-of-the-year deadlines at work, hosting holiday celebrations, dealing with family conflict, or added financial strain, holidays have the potential to tax our ability to cope.
When we are faced with stressors, we experience physiological, emotional, and cognitive arousal.  Activating chemicals, such as endorphins, cortisol, and adrenalin, are released in order to help up rise to the challenge of meeting the demands of these stressors in order to effectively manage them and reduce the arousal or tension we are experiencing. This is called the flight-or-fight response.
When the stressor(s) are perceived as too great with which to manage or cope effectively, we can feel overwhelmed. This may manifest itself as experiencing intense emotion (i.e., anxiety, depression, irritability, anger), maladaptive thought processes (i.e., worry, rumination, unhelpful thoughts, doubt, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt), and behavior change (i.e., lashing out, crying, panic attack).

Potential consequences of acute or chronic stress and feeling overwhelmed include anxiety, depression, irritability, sleep disturbance, appetite disturbance, interpersonal strain, headache, gastrointestinal distress, and increased vulnerability to medical as well as psychiatric illness.

 Take note of a few tips to get through the holidays comfortably and contentedly:
  • 1.  Be realistic – Neither you, nor your holiday has to be perfect. Whether you uphold holiday traditions or explore new ways to celebrate, consider your expectations and remain flexible.
  • 2.  Practice acceptance – Some degree of anxiety is “normal”, healthy, and motivating. It’s “normal” to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, and/or imminent. Anxiety, in itself, feels bad, but is not harmful and always passes. Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in and ride it out.
  • 3.  Change your thoughts – We all have moments in which we increase our own anxiety by worrying about that which we cannot completely control. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or to some extent, unreasonable. Catch those thoughts, think about them and how they affect you, and change them to more helpful, adaptive thoughts.
  • 4.  Plan ahead – Set a budget for yourself and plan holiday activities and gift giving in advance. No one enjoys having to do all holiday preparations the night before the celebration, so think ahead and prepare to manage the stress of the demands.
  • 5.  Don’t take on too much – Be honest with yourself and your interests. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, consider limiting your activities to that which you are interested in and able to do. It is okay to say no.
  • 6.  Take care of yourself – Many of us spend so much time caring for the needs of others that we have the potential to neglect our own needs. Attend to your own feelings and healthy self-care: good nutrition, sleep, and exercise are important to well-being.
  • 7.  Stay Connected – Social support is vital to managing stress. Maintain connections to family and friends. Talking with others can do a world of good.
  • 8.  Be in the “now” – Too much focus on worrying about what may or may not come and you will not be able to enjoy the present moment. So, schedule some time to plan for what is to come, but take in all that is your present moment and enjoy the present.
  •  9.  Take a deep breath – Practicing diaphragmatic breathing or other relaxation inducing practice (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery exercises, tai chi, yoga) can reduce stress by helping to encourage the relaxation response.
  • 10.  Behavioral activation – Take action. Engage in an activity you may enjoy, such as, taking a walk, listening to music, reading a book). Engage in problem-solving (In what ways might you address the stressors that are causing these feelings?)

Best wishes to all of you for a happy holiday season!

Dr. Deibler

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10 Tips to Beat Holiday Stress

Marla W. Deibler, PsyD

Marla W. Deibler, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and nationally-recognized expert in anxiety disorders and the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, including trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding, and tic disorders. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia in New Jersey, an outpatient facility specialized in providing evaluation and evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies for these and other difficulties. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of OCD-NJ, the New Jersey affiliate of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). Dr. Deibler gained her formative clinical experiences at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Children’s National Medical Center, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. She gained specialized behavior therapy experience in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders at the nationally-recognized Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington. Dr. Deibler served as a clinician at the National Center for Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression. She also served as Director of Behavioral Sciences at the Temple University School of Dentistry and served on the clinical faculty at Temple University Schools of Medicine and Allied Health as well as Temple University Children’s Medical Center. Dr. Deibler has published scientific research in peer-reviewed journals and has presented clinical training seminars and research findings at national and international meetings. She has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, A&E’s “Hoarders”, TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle (CN8, Retirement TV), and CBS’s “Swift Justice with Nancy Grace”. She has been quoted by media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Connecticut Post, among others. Dr. Deibler holds licenses to practice psychology in New Jersey (Lic. No. 35S100438000) and Pennsylvania (Lic. No. PS0157790). She is an active member of the American Psychological Association, Trichotillomania Learning Center, International OCD Foundation, OCD-New Jersey, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Dr. Deibler resides in suburban Philadelphia with her husband (who is also a psychologist) and three children.

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APA Reference
Deibler, M. (2012). 10 Tips to Beat Holiday Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Dec 2012
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