Dealing With Holiday Stress

Dealing With Holiday Stress

Mercy’s Natalie Kurkjian offers expert advice for coping with the season’s stressors.


The frosty chill of a December morning often brings with it thoughts of the approaching holiday season – decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, planning parties – but as the days speed toward the big event, it’s important to take a moment and savor the magic of the holiday season. A cup of tea by the fireplace while listening to Doris Day’s classic Christmas album, an evening stroll through the neighborhood’s sparkling decorations, even a jaunt to the mall to people-watch – whatever brings you joy, that’s what you should do. And thinking ahead can help alleviate holiday stress.

“Planning ahead can be helpful,” says Natalie Kurkjian, a physician at Mercy Department of Behavioral Health. “Creating a schedule or filling in a ‘Holiday Calendar’ that sets aside days for shopping, baking, visiting family or friends, is a great start. Knowing what lies ahead can help you dodge the chaos.

“As to symptoms of excessive stress, watch for persistent sad feelings, continuous anxiety, difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, feeling excessively irritable or hopeless – these may warrant a visit to your doctor or mental health professional,” she adds. In hopes of preventing that, though, Kurkjian offers this extra advice:


Remake Memories

“Looking back on joyous holiday seasons from the past can bring out many emotions. Whether it is recalling those who are no longer with us, or certain traditions that have faded, it is possible to turn that lamenting into new fond memories. Rekindling old traditions and creating new ones, especially in memory of those who have passed, is a start. Making favorite recipes, watching classic Christmas movies of your childhood or decorating to your heart’s content can all help recreate the childhood holiday of your memory.”


Agree to Disagree

“Preparing ourselves for difficult interactions is key. Sometimes, families will have a ‘no politics’ policy and avoid it from the beginning. If this isn’t possible, acknowledging that you cannot control what others do or think is a safe bet. Redirect the conversation if it’s heading to a ‘no-go zone,’ or excuse yourself to get a refill of cider. And if it all becomes just too much, a brisk walk around the block can help you reset.”


Make a Budget

“Sometimes, more does not actually make it merrier. Have an idea of how much you want to spend on parties, gifts, trips – and try to stick to that number. Also, learn when to say no to extra projects or activities. Saying yes when we know we should have declined can lead to resentment and guilt, which don’t make for a very merry holiday season.”


Prepare for Afterward

“Some studies have shown 25 percent of Americans have symptoms consistent with mild to moderate depression after the holidays end. There are ways to prevent this holiday letdown. Take care of yourself; no doubt the holiday season has affected your health. Take up a routine of daily exercise or modify your diet. Also, come up with some activities to look forward to: attend a live performance, try out a new restaurant or catch up with friends over coffee. And why not take some time to help others? Volunteering at a homeless shelter or reaching out to older relatives or neighbors can always help reframe your attitude, while making others feel better.”


Focusing on creating the perfect holiday is just setting yourself up for disappointment, Kurkjian said. Try not to focus too much on the minutiae, and if that is not possible – or it’s just too late – remember to take a deep breath and maybe even laugh.

“And if you can’t laugh at yourself, just Google ‘Christmas Fails’ and you will soon see it is not as bad as you think!”