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How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

Canada goes into full-blown Christmas mode at this time of year. The festive tunes play in every store, the sentimental cards hit the shelves, and commercials of loving, family dinners show up on your TV screen every second. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? 

Well, not for everyone.

I’d argue that for the vast majority of people, the holiday season is incredibly stressful. Between spending money you don’t have on gifts, attending 23985092385203985 Christmas parties, and having to see relatives you pretend to not share genetics with, it can one hell of a stressful time. 

This post is about how to survive the holidays if they bring nothing but dread for you. Bah humbug! 

  1. Change your expectations. 

  • A lot of stress can come from simply feeling like you should be enjoying something you don’t. Everyone else loves Christmas! Shouldn’t I be happy? You don’t “have” to be anything. As I said, the holiday season is highly stressful for a lot of people, yet we often don’t talk about this because it’s not “in good spirit.” If the holidays are a hard time for you, accept that rather than trying to change it, as that will only bring on more stress. 

2. Anticipate obstacles and plan a strategy for how you’ll handle them. 

  • If you’re someone who finds being with certain family members and/or friends stressful, I’m sure you’d be able to explain to me why you find it so. Maybe your uncle makes those inappropriate jokes that drive you nuts. Or maybe your brother always has one too many drinks and starts being loud and obnoxious. I bet you can predict with a good deal of accuracy what might happen at any family gathering. This is incredibly helpful information that you can use to your advantage! Write down all the things you suspect might happen and then add how you’ll handle said situations. It might be something as simple as saying a mantra to yourself—I won’t have to see this uncle until next Christmas, I won’t have to see this uncle until next Christmas—or it might mean taking a “bathroom break” for a timeout. Go in prepared.

3. Bring someone who's on your side. 

  • Bring a friend or partner to events you’re nervous about to act as a buffer. If someone at the party is driving you nuts, you can talk about it with your friend in private. Or, you can both just do your own thing so you’re less likely to engage with people who grind your gears. The confidence of knowing that someone has your back in a difficult situation can also be invaluable. 

4. Have a friend on standby. 

  • If bringing a friend isn’t possible, tell someone ahead of time that you’re going into a difficult situation and that you’ll probably text or call them throughout the night. Being able to vent, laugh, or speak openly to someone can really help you blow off some steam. 

​5. Depersonalize the situation however you can. 

  • A useful tool for me when I'm in difficult situations is to pretend that I’m doing a home visit for a family with whom I provide therapy. I pretend that they’re my clients and that my job is to go in and make some observations. Suddenly, I go from thinking, “Wow, look at how they’re attacking me!” to “Isn’t it fascinating that this family acts this way? I wonder what that’s about…” In putting on my “therapist hat,” I’m able to become more removed from the situation and therefore be less affected by it. You don’t have to actually be a therapist to do this type of activity; just pretend!  

6. Find balance.

  • For some people, gatherings with friends or family are the “business” part of the holiday season, not the fun part. They’re the things they're obligated to go to rather than the things they want to go to. As with anything in life, balance is key. If you’re obliged to go to events with in-laws you don’t like, for example, do something with your partner that you both find fun, like watching your favourite Christmas movie together or going skating. Doing something you enjoy can help offset the negative experiences that come with the holiday season.

7. Vent about it with someone you trust and find the humour in the situation. 

  • Carpooling to and from an event with someone you’re close with can be very helpful. It can allow you to prepare yourself on the way and debrief about everything that happened when you leave. And if you can, try to poke fun at situations when you can. Sometimes a bit of laughter is key to lightening the mood and making things more manageable. 

8. Set boundaries for yourself.

  • You may feel obligated to go to certain events, but remember that there’s always wiggle room for your needs, too. You can make a pact that you are going to leave at a certain time so you don’t up staying for any longer than necessary. You can decide to sit on the opposite end of the table from someone you don’t like so you don’t have to engage with them as much. You can bring a light-hearted board game so that playing a game becomes the focus of the evening rather than engaging in frustrating conversations. Be creative and own up to what you’re willing and not willing to do throughout the night to make things easier on yourself. 

The Bottom Line 

While Christmas songs, movies, and cards would have us believe otherwise, the holiday season can be a really, really difficult time for some people. It can involve seeing people you have no interest in seeing. It can involve stepping back into dynamics that you’ve tried to escape from for the rest of the year. It can bring up emotions and feelings that you typically don’t have to deal with. But never forget that you still have a lot of agency and still have a lot more control than you think you do. So, instead of hoping that you’ll have a very merry Christmas, I’m gonna keep it real and say: I hope you have a bearable Christmas, my dears. 

You Tell Me!

How do you survive the holiday season!? Share your pearls of wisdom in the comments below!


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