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Coping with the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…or at least that’s the expectation. Between the media, family, and friends there is a lot of pressure for these next 6 weeks to be the most magical. The reality is a lot of us have lean into coping with the holidays and the stress they bring.

Some years are magical, some are both and some frankly suck…..

Sometimes coping with the holidays looks like: managing stressful family dynamics, the loss of a loved one, pressure with the end of the year, finances, job stress, illness, your relationship with food, or maybe traditions changing. The first step is to acknowledge where you are at this season.

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what you need and how to cope. A lot of times we ruminate, trying to predict the conversations that might happen. What that usually leads to is more anxiety and walking into the holidays with more stress because we are on guard.

We have found that during this time therapy can be a lifesaver in bringing more balance of the hard and joyful to the holiday season. These are the skills that we have found to be most helpful when coping with the holidays:

Setting boundaries

  • Having a plan for how long you attend a gathering / leaving at a certain time
  • Saying no to too many obligations
    • “I appreciate the offer, I need to focus on recharging during this time.” 
    • “I won’t be able to attend but let’s plan something at a later date.” 
    • “I will stop by for about an hour, I look forward to seeing you.” 
    • “I’m working on creating more balance in my life, so I won’t be able to ___.”
      • You don’t have to respond right away if you feel pressured try saying, “Let me get back to you by ____.” 
  • Other potential boundaries needed
    • “I’m not willing to discuss (insert topic here, weight/body image, future plans, identity, political affiliation, etc.) 

Breathing exercises options

  • Breath in for 3, out for 3 -repeat 
  • Breath in for 3, out for 5 or in for 4, out for 6 -repeat 
  • Square breathing: in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4 -repeat 

Grounding exercise 5-4-3-2-1 

  • 5 things you see
  • 4 things you hear
  • 3 things you can feel/touch
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

Cold water

  • Taking a step away when feeling overwhelmed to splash cold water on your face, use an ice pack/cold wash rag
  • You could also step outside and breathe in the cool Wisconsin air 

Self-care/calming activities 

  • Engaging in enjoyable/calming activities that are relaxing before and after the Holidays – some examples
    • Listen to music
    • Journal 
    • Take a bath/hot shower/skin care routine 
    • Light a candle 
    • Use essential oils
    • Snuggle your pet
    • Read
    • Watch your favorite TV show/movie 
    • Talk with a friend
    • Color
    • Knit/crochet 
    • Go for a walk
    • Yoga
    • Make something delicious to eat
    • Take a social media break 


  • It can be helpful to express to your trusted supports how they can support you during the Holidays.
    • Having them check in with you
    • Being present with you at a gathering 
    • Reminding you of calming skills to use
    • Doing calming skills with you

Using coping skills can be helpful to regulate our emotions during stressful events to keep us grounded. You still may experience intense emotions especially if someone is not respectful of your boundaries. You are doing the best that you can during this season and taking care of yourself is the most important!

Kendra Bittner, LPC
Individual Psychotherapist
Empowerment Within LLC

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