Coping Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season

By Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist, Work, Stress and Health Program, CAMH

Do you feel more stressed during the holiday season? Though the holiday season is a time of joy and celebration, it can also be stressful for many people.

As we approach the holidays, we need to be aware of stressors, signs of stress, and healthy ways to cope. Here are a few things to consider in the next few weeks:

Holiday Stressors
Various factors could contribute to more stress during the holiday season, including:

  • The number of social obligations that people attend could lead to anxiety, stress and feeling exhausted.
  • Tensions or conflicts that may arise during social gatherings, especially with certain family members or friends, particularly if strains in the relationships already exist.
  • The new reality at this time causing further stress: hearing of holiday travel alerts, possible travel risks in particular during holidays given terrorists threats around the world; families feeling anxious for the safety of loved ones or unable to reunite with loved ones for fear for safety.
  • Upsetting or traumatic events that have occurred during a holiday season could bring about feelings of sadness and isolation.
  • The death of a loved one or the inability to be with loved ones during the holiday season can contribute to feelings of sadness, loneliness and unhappiness.
  • Financial expenses and pressures can lead to financial strain, and for some, financial debt.
  • Traveling, including booking flights, and uncertainties about weather conditions and delays, can be stressful. Traveling could also increase financial expenses.
  • The acts of shopping in crowded malls, preparing holiday meals, and decorating the home can contribute to more stress and fatigue.
  • The expectations and pressures we put on ourselves, including for instance wanting to have the “perfect gift, perfect meal or perfect home decorations” could contribute to unrealistic expectations, and, in turn, to feelings of disappointment.
  • The tendency of overindulge on sweets, food, alcohol or caffeine during holiday seasons could also take physical toll.

Signs of Stress
Recognize the signs that you might be stressed out. Some of the signs include:

  • Feeling more irritable or moody
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Becoming more negative
  • Headaches, muscle tension or stomach problems
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty sleeping

Coping Strategies
Some tips for coping with holiday stress:

  • Time management: Plan things ahead of time. Make a list (Santa checks his twice J), and prioritize your activities (e.g., shopping, gifts, meals, number of social gatherings).
  • Set up realistic goals and expectations. Reminding yourself that things do not have to be “perfect” in order to be good. This also entails accepting the things we can do versus the things we cannot do.
    • For example, accepting that there might not be enough time to attend all the social gatherings and that there might be a need to limit the number of social gatherings.
  • Set up a budget and stick with it. Planning and budgeting and keeping track of holiday spending can help prevent financial strains and feeling increased stress post holidays.
    • Accepting that some of the desired gifts cannot not be purchased because of the financial expenses.
  • Share and delegate tasks and responsibilities, including holiday meals, home decorations and shopping and gifts. Ask for help. Dividing responsibilities and sharing activities or responsibilities can help alleviate stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, and also creates a sense of togetherness.
  • If you feel lonely or sad during the holiday seasons, seek social support among friends or family or the community. Some groups or religious organizations can provide you with great opportunity to meet people and not be alone.
  • Take care of yourself. Setting up proper sleep hygiene; reducing negativity; engaging in a regular pleasurable activity (e.g., taking a walk; listening to music; reading a book); eating healthy diet; limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption and sweets; and doing regular physical exercise.
  • Help those in need by volunteering. Offer your help at a food bank or other organizations or donate clothes or toys to those in need. Helping others can bring out good feelings for you and those you help.


If you’re suffering from a substance use problem, holiday season can be difficult due to the social gatherings and the use of alcohol during those times. The CCSA has put together Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to help people reduce the harms related to alcohol use.

For people hosting a party, here are some helpful tips to lower your risks as a host when having a party.

If the signs of stress last for some period of time, increasing your overall distress level or interfering with your day to day functioning, then it might be important to consult a health care professional. Seek professional help from a family doctor or a mental health professional or get in touch with ConnexOntario, which operates help lines that provide health services information for people experiencing problems with gambling, drugs or alcohol, and mental illness. Visit ConnexOntario’s website at

And above all, remind yourself to enjoy the positive moments and experiences that the holiday season brings.


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