Holiday's don't always feel warm and fuzzy!

Author: Dr. Julie. Sorenson, DMFT, MA, LPC

You aren’t alone if you feel stress, anxiety, or depression around the holiday season.

What is the first thing you think about during the holidays? Some people think about parties, family/ friend celebrations, holiday décor, holiday lights, holiday scents, traditions, and laughter. However, not everyone feels like the holidays are the happiest time of the year. Holidays could be a painful reminder of living as a dysfunctional family, not having a family, bouncing from relationship to relationship, or family to family (Baratta, 2016).

Some people experience stress, anxiety, broken boundaries, triggers, loneliness, and depression. You are not alone if you feel stress from the holiday season (Strauss, 2020). Some people feel extra added pressure during the holidays and have difficulty feeling happy. While some families play games, share stories, and feel the love among the members within their families and loved ones. However, others know there will be stress, anxiety, fights, disagreements, overeating, and triggers. Some may feel they will let others down and disappoint others by not living up to promises made. Others may have lost a loved one and are unsure how to do the holidays without their special person. Some family members may be facing illness, putting sadness in the hearts surrounding them. In contrast, others have cut people from their lives to better themselves, but they still feel a loss.


It can be heartbreaking to remember conflicts from years past, causing anxiety that the conflict will arise again (Strauss, 2020). Maybe the expectations of the holidays are like those in the movies. However, everything goes differently than planned, causing emotional exhaustion while questioning what you are doing wrong, not creating that happy, everlasting feeling you were hoping for. Holidays can bring emotional distress and flashbacks of negative holiday moments (Strauss, 2020). Some even feel the healthiest thing to do is avoid the holidays altogether, leaving them with a sense of sadness and emptiness.


Maybe you feel the stress of hosting the holidays, cooking, shopping, and wrapping all the presents. What takes weeks to prepare may take moments to finish, leaving a sense of sadness, wondering if it was enough, if people enjoyed themselves, or feeling resentful because you were doing all the work and did not get to enjoy time with those you worked so hard in hopes they enjoyed themselves. You may feel pressure about who to spend the holidays with, or you have been cut off from friends and families, and you miss the times you spent with loved ones. Alternatively, you sit in silence, listening to the laughter around you, wishing someone would listen to what you say, or feeling uncomfortable around the conversations of politics or world issues. Perhaps you are insulted by drunk or strung-out family members, feeling they can take their negative thoughts out on you. You may be beaten or abused and feel like there is no way out of the endless torture. Possibly, you are an alcoholic or in recovery, and it feels easier to stay at home than face criticism from judgmental members of the family (Strauss, 2020).


You may hope for the best and convince yourself it will not be so bad this year but end up feeling numb from the discomfort you felt around the family gatherings. Just because the movies portray families sitting around the fireplace, laughing, and enjoying each other's company does not mean people change into happy humans just because it is the holiday season. You are not alone if you feel extra emotions during the holiday. Here are a few suggestions to assist you in making the best of your holiday season.

  • Know you are not alone. Other people also need help during the holidays.
  • Plan to do things for yourself that bring you joy.
  • Say "no" when you need to.
  • Feel free to ask for help.
  • Invite yourself to a friend's gathering if you are alone for the holidays.
  • Volunteer to serve others.
  • Start a new tradition.
  • Plan a trip or go on a holiday vacation.
  • Give yourself grace.
  • Recognize your triggers.
  • Recharge your battery.
  • Self reflects on how the next holiday season could be better.
  • Find a therapist.

Boundaries are vital to your mental health. The holidays do not have to be a revolving door in creating happiness for everyone else (Martin, 2021). It is okay to allow time to take care of you, so you are not going against your beliefs, values, or physical or mental health that make you your authentic self. Creating boundaries for yourself throughout the year is essential, but ensuring you are additionally mindful during the holidays will provide you with self-care. Setting boundaries is not saying you do not care about your loved ones, but it is saying you respect yourself, your needs, and your wants.


Sometimes, when you start setting boundaries, you may notice you will lose certain people in your life. However, the people who matter and love you will respect the boundaries you are creating to ensure self-love for you, remembering you are worthy of these boundaries. Start by doing self-reflection on what:

  • Contributes to stressful situations.
  • What makes you end up feeling anger or resentment?
  • Feelings of disappointment
  • Being overwhelmed
  • Stress
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Or any uncomfortable feeling

Once you have established a situation that contributes to complicated feelings, you need to self-reflect on what you can do to limit or eliminate some of your uncomfortable feelings. Here are a few suggestions to help you in creating boundaries.

  • Create Limits for yourself.
  • Know if you are tired and need rest.
  • Let people know if you do not appreciate their suggestions on your parenting.
  • Use "I" messages. Such as: “I feel…, I think….., I wish….,”
  • Paraphrase your needs and wants.
  • Say "No"
  • Share with people, not over-sharing or under-sharing, just what you feel is appropriate.
  • Remember, you get to choose who you trust.
  • Your morals and values are yours; no one needs to tell you they are wrong.
  • Your time is valuable.
  • Know which boundaries are not negotiable or which ones you can be more flexible with.
  • Stick to your budget.
  • Know how much alcohol you choose to consume.
  • Driving separately, you can decide when you should come home if you go out.


Therapy offices are usually busiest during the holidays as we assist people in navigating their pain and suffering or helping you to discover your boundaries. It is crucial if you are feeling stressed over the holiday season to allow yourself grace and to relax and enjoy the things that bring you joy. Protect yourself from uncomfortable situations if you do not have money and cut back on gift-giving. If you do not feel like hosting this year, make sure you can express your needs and wants and tell other family members you need a year of hosting. Learn yourself, do some self-reflection, and determine what may trigger you to eliminate or limit your time around the things that trigger you. Avoidance can be a safety behavior that may make things feel better at the moment but could make things more difficult. Be aware of your safety behaviors and learn ways to help you navigate life's difficult moments. Remember that saying "no" or asking for help is okay. Being mindful of your needs, compassionate, and be patient with yourself while allowing you to take care of you could decrease stress or anxiety. Remember, you are worthy to be happy during the holiday and throughout the year. If you do not know how to find that happiness, you are not alone; trained therapists are here to help you. If you are having thoughts of suicide, contact 988 for help or go to the nearest emergency room for an evaluation. To find a therapist, Psychology Today can help you find a good fit. Remember, shopping around for a therapist that is a good fit for you is okay.

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