Take the stress out of the season
Words by Ashley Locke
Some people love the holiday season, and others dread it. But no matter which camp you land in, the holidays probably come with a little extra stress. We chatted with Claire Fierman, M.Ed., LPC about why the holidays can be anxiety-inducing—and what we can do about it.
Why do the holidays feel stressful?
Claire Fierman, LPC:
There are several reasons. There’s the anticipation of doing things a certain way, wanting the experience of the holidays to match how it felt when you were young. There’s nostalgia, and the ache for something that doesn’t exist anymore. And there’s the expectation of magic. When we have all these grand plans for what’s to come, it ends up taking us out of the happiness we should be having in the present moment.
On top of all of that, we often overcommit ourselves. The holidays often make us feel like we owe people something—a gift, attention, our presence at a party. We wear ourselves very thin, and if you’re doing all of it with a full-time job and kids, it’s even more exhausting.
So, what can we do to prevent holiday anxiety?
- Recognize that sometimes anxiety can be healthy—it can be an indicator of something you don’t want to do. When you are deciding whether or not to add something to your plate—going to an event, baking treats for a party, etc.—during the holidays, recognize how you feel. Do I feel guilty and anxious, or do I feel calm and grounded? Make choices with intention, and do only what feels best for you and your family.
- Don’t press pause on self-care, and don’t wait to start. January 1 is not a magic date, and there’s something special about enjoying the cozy part of winter. Surround yourself with soft things, sip warm drinks, have just one friend over—tend to yourself by doing tiny things that feel good, even if it’s just drinking enough water or getting enough sleep.
- Understand that when you are with your family as an adult, you will revert to acting like your teenage self. Have a tenderness and awareness toward that, check yourself when those feelings arise, and still be kind when you’re feeling emotionally triggered.
- Know that you will disappoint somebody. Maybe it’s your first Christmas divorced and Christmas feels different for the kids, and maybe you didn’t get the “right” gifts—someone will be disappointed, and you will survive it.
- Don’t feel like you need to live outside of your means. It’s easy to think we need to buy more than we actually need to. Mindful money management shouldn’t stop during the holidays.
- Make a holiday checklist of one to three things that you really want to do during the holidays, whether it’s seeing lights, caroling, attending a play, etc. When you do it and check the box, you’ll get a hit of dopamine instead of experiencing the feeling of not doing enough to celebrate the holidays or the feeling of overwhelming yourself with too much.
Meet the Therapist
Claire Fierman, M.Ed., LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) graduated from the University of Montevallo with a Master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. She saw her first client in 2010, and has been practicing ever since. Her main focuses are substance abuse, trauma, depression, anxiety, and women's issues. She’s a mother of two, and she loves hiking and knitting.