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How to Manage Holiday Stress – Recommendations from a Psychologist


The Holidays are upon us once again.  With all the planning, festivities, and financial strain, it’s no wonder that the “happiest time of year” can also be fraught with stress and anxiety.  And for many, this time of year is also a reminder of those we’ve lost, who are no longer here to celebrate with us. 

It can be easy to lose sight of our core values during this busy time. We get caught up in all the details, and may struggle to bring ourselves back to the moment and truly be present.  Here are some recommendations to keep in mind in the coming weeks to manage stress and make the most of the holidays:

  1.  Don’t forget to pause and breathe – Whether it’s wrapping a gift, going to a holiday party, or participating in a religious observance, remind yourself to slow down, be present, and give the experience your full attention.

    The stress of the season has a way of pulling you out of the moment, so counteract this by using your senses to ground you where you are.  This is like taking a mental photograph of your experience.  If you get distracted by worry, take a second to notice, and gently bring yourself back to the moment.  Repeat as needed.

  2. What are your values? – Ask yourself what is most meaningful to you during this time period?  While buying the perfect gift for someone is synonymous with the holiday season, reflect on other aspects that are vitally important to you.  Volunteering, participating in a community project, re-connecting with friends you haven’t seen in awhile, and family traditions are some examples of values in which to spend your energy and time. 
  3. Use self compassion, create meaning, and reach out – For some, the Holidays can be a very difficult time period.  They can be a reminder of someone lost, of a challenging time, or they can bring on feelings of loneliness.  Being aware of your thoughts and feelings can help you  create meaning.  For example, doing something “in memory of” a loved one is a way to celebrate their life and honor your connection to them.  Reach out to friends and loved ones for support when needed.  Talk to your healthcare providers if you are struggling.  Remember that you are not alone.
  4. Plan ahead – It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of the holidays.  Especially with gift giving and other expenses.  Take a look at your finances in advance, and create a budget.  Get creative with other ways of gift giving.  Rather than trying to buy presents for everyone in the family, have a Secret Santa drawing in the weeks preceding the holidays and set a spending limit.  Get creative by making gifts, or start a new holiday tradition that the whole family can enjoy.
  5. Create and maintain a healthy lifestyle – No surprises here that getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and regular exercise will help to manage the stress and strain of the season.  Chances are there will be plenty of opportunities to get off track (oops!), so be aware of your schedule in advance to plan when you can get in that workout, or catch up on some rest and relaxation.    

The Holidays can create stress and anxiety.  But knowing yourself, and what you need at this time, can help you prepare, focus on what you value most, and create meaningful memories. Have a happy holiday season!


Heather Carpenter-Sarmiento, Psy.D, is a Psychologist and Behavioral Health Specialist who earned her Clinical Psychology Doctorate from Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus in Brookville, NY and completed her internship from Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, NY.  Dr. Carpenter-Sarmiento is seeing patients in Middletown and Newburgh.