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  • Gonzalo Laje

Managing Stress During Winter Holidays

The winter holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year, from stretched finances to complex relationships, and from few daylight hours to loneliness. In this blog, we will explore some strategies for tolerating distress and promoting wellness this season.

Personal Meaning

To start, it may be worthwhile to consider how you can honor your own personal meaning of this season. For some people, giving to others provides them with a sense of purpose, such as through clothing drives, gift giving, and volunteering. For others, this is a season for self-care and growth. Maybe religious or spiritual rituals are important for you to tap into, or perhaps this is simply a time for staying warm and ensuring you experience enough daylight. How might you embrace what this holiday or season means to you personally, and keep this meaning at the center of your thoughts and actions? Perhaps through journaling, reciting affirmations, art, quiet walks, traditions, and a general curious awareness in daily activities? There are plenty of opportunities for mindfulness and focusing on your values during festivities, like taking in the sights, slowly sipping a beverage, or soaking up the scents of the season.

Budgeting in Accordance to Values

For many people, there is expectation and pressure to spend extra money during the holidays. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the exchange of material pleasures; however, you will certainly experience heightened stress and even resentment if you overextend your wallet. Consider how you can act in alignment with your values here, maintaining a balance of both celebrating and budgeting. What would healthy boundaries look like for you regarding spending? Many people choose alternatives like hand-made gifts or gifts of quality time. For some people, gifts from local and/or minority-owned shops or charities align with their personal values. For other people, experience gifts, handwritten cards, or offering one’s time to help a loved one (e.g., babysitting, handywork) feel most rewarding.


Similar to a monetary budget, consider your energy budget (Cue the affirming song “Energy Budget” by Toni Jones). For those looking after others during this season, it may benefit you and your loved ones if you give them a descriptive heads up about what to expect. What will their schedule look like and who might they see, based both on their needs and your own? For some people, especially children, they have grandiose expectations, and are inevitably disappointed when the festivities aren’t perfect. It can be helpful to guide them in setting up reasonable expectations ahead of time. Help them make a plan to cope with feeling overwhelmed, but first and foremost, consider how you as a caregiver will help yourself when you’re overwhelmed. Be sure to prioritize taking self-care breaks, and come up with boundaries to find balance in looking after yourself and others.


There are plenty of well-written blogs about self-care (see one of ours for self-care ideas: for a reason. With the shortened daylight hours, you might consider opening your curtains or taking regular walks. Another aspect of self-care may include boundaries and coping skills related to relationships. There is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill called willing hands, in which a person puts their hands in a relaxed, palms-up position, either on their lap while sitting, or by their sides while standing. It is understood that this position helps a person feel more calm and accepting when they are expecting to experience anger or discomfort. I find an excellent time to use this skill may be at the dinner table with loved ones, when you expect to have a difficult time interacting, perhaps due to conflicting worldviews. It is vital for distress tolerance and emotional regulation at all times of the year, and you might find yourself needing extra self-soothing this season.


Feelings of loneliness often peak this season, and there are creative ways to access social support. Some of us are unfortunately unable to access the physical presence of loved ones. Some alternatives may be to go to a local holiday event, find online groups with shared interests, volunteer, call a warmline (one I suggest is the Wildflower Alliance Peer Support Line at 888-407-4515), check out Facebook events, visit the humane society, or even spend intentional quality time with yourself.

As always, we at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates are here to provide support during difficult times.

I wish you a restful and fulfilling season, and if you have a rough season, know that everything is temporary.


Emily “Max” Lamm, MA, LRIC

Licensed Resident in Counseling


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