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The Holiday Season is Full of Feelings from Happy to Hurtful: Prepare Yourself for All Emotions the Season Brings

November 16, 2023

Holiday season is expected to be the most joyous time of the year–filled with laughter and cherished moments. Let’s take the ‘h’ in “holiday” and consider what feelings we think of during this time. We typically think of happiness as the first emotional response when contemplating the holiday season. Other positive ‘h’ feelings we think of are: hopeful, heartened, and helpful. Yet there are also other ‘h’ feeling words that are very present during the holidays for many as well–feeling harried, hectic, hasty, hurtful, hostile, humiliated, horrible, heartbroken, and hopeless.

The dissonance that exists between feelings within and the mood and activity around us can create tremendous stress, exacerbating and intensifying already existing emotions, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and isolation. The result–the holiday season can be a time of increased stress and anxiety. 

Given what we’ve all gone through over the past few years of ongoing unpredictably, disruption, isolation, and conflicts around the world, many have experienced to various degrees increased anxiety and depression. Add to those already simmering–if not boiling–emotions, holiday expectations that can involve family dynamics and dysfunction, financial worries and anxiety, and overstimulation from commercialization and hype. 

Additionally, there’s the natural disruption of daily routines (e.g. mealtimes and bedtimes) and embedded expectations (e.g. brushing teeth, bath times, helping to clean up) that all provide a sense of focus, calm, safety and security. When those calming routines are turned upside down it leaves one feeling easily consumed by the heat of the moment and trying to maintain a sense of balance while teetering on the edge of a tipping point. 

Causes of Holiday Stress in Adults

Loneliness is a common stressor during the holidaysAccording to the American Psychological Association, 44% of women and 31% of men said their stress levels were higher than normal during the holidays.

Holiday stressors include:

  • Financial pressures: The cost of gifts, travel, and other holiday activities
  • Holiday tasks: Shopping, keeping family members healthy, and making holiday meals
  • Family gatherings: Criticism from family members and hosting family
  • Social obligations: Back-to-back holiday parties and houseguests
  • Loneliness: Feelings of loneliness and isolation

Related: Ending the Cycle of Struggling in Silence and Ignoring Your Emotions

Causes of Holiday Stress in Children

Children feel stressed, too!

When children experience holiday stress, they may have meltdownsChildren are very attuned to and sensitive to change and overstimulation from the hype of the holiday season. Preparations and the hustle and bustle of the season can easily overwhelm children, like being on an ongoing sugar high.

Children are exquisite emotional detectives picking up and responding to our own stress and anxiety and adding it onto theirs that already exists from changes in routines, expectations, and cueing into parents’ and adults’ moods. The children respond in kind.

So what do we watch out for? Children express emotions in actions and behaviors, so watch for changes, such as:

  • Physical complaints 
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Meltdowns
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Heightened clinginess
  • Withdrawal

Related: Emotionally-Minded Books to Share with Your Child this Holiday Season

Ways Caregivers Can Help Relieve Holiday Stress on Children

Sister's celebrating ChannukahSo what do we do? Children learn through imitation, observation, and how we model, guide and respond to them and others. Here are some tips to help children during this exciting yet hectic and stressful time:

  • Avoid overscheduling; children need less stimulation, not more. Provide a cozy corner where they can decompress and engage in relaxing activities.
  • Children need consistent routines & predictability to promote feelings of safety and security.
  • Children’s feelings need to be acknowledged, accepted and validated. Acceptance of feelings does not mean acceptance of behavior.
  • Lastly, ask children open-ended “what” versus “why” questions such as “what are you feeling; what made you feel this way?” AND involve your child in the solution so they have a sense of control. 

    Finally, remember that you need to take care of your emotional needs first in order to be able to support your children–the oxygen mask rule. Manage your own stress. This can be done with tools such as prioritizing de-stressing before and after you have to interact with a difficult family member. Effective stress management techniques can include meditation, going for a walk, journaling your thoughts, or chatting with a close friend.

    By managing your own emotions, you can model and guide emotional expression and coping mechanisms for your child(ren). 

    By prioritizing your emotions and those of the children around you, you can help make the holiday season happy, merry and bright for the people you care most about in your life, including you!

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