My Story-Dealing With Holiday Anxiety

Tips From A Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

By Courtney Daly-Pavone November 5, 2019

This article is a 4 minute read

Do you envision a Norman Rockwell Christmas every year? The perfect tree, gifts, and conflict free dinners with loved ones? 

My parents made magic happen at Christmas, but you know what? We tend to romanticize the past. As an adult I tried to ditto those holidays,  but since learned that's a huge mistake!

Enough Already! My Holiday Lesson

Two years ago my son asked non-stop to put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. I promised him that Saturday would be the day! On Saturday my husband got stuck working, but we went ahead and decorated as planned. 

There was one problem, half of our artificial Christmas tree was missing. After spending an eternity trying to assemble the tree, it was incomplete. It wasn't a tree, it was a bush. I couldn't find the other half! 

Christmas tunes were playing along with my child screaming and crying in frustration. I ended up yelling at my son for rushing to get this done so early when I wasn't even in the spirit. He ran to his room slamming the door. I poured a glass of Merlot and got under the covers at 11 am. I felt like a failure. I could hear my child in his room sobbing. He shrieked, "This is the worst Christmas ever!" I wanted him to have warm Christmas memories, not holiday nightmares. 

I composed myself, and went to his room to apologize for losing it and handed him a cup of cocoa. I explained that the tree would go up tomorrow, and that we were going to enjoy the season one day at a time. I gave him a hug, and we joked about what is now known in our family as Christmas Bush!

Do you know the Christmas song Carol of the Bells?

"Christmas is here, Bringing good cheer." Well when I hear that song I feel pressure. The lyrics change to: "Put up the tree, buy tur-key, go to the mall, stand in line!"  It's easy to feel anxious this time of year with so much to do, and you don't want to feel like you're missing out. 

According to Carrie Barish a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, "People often get stressed out this time of year because they ignore their limits, capacities, and capabilities."

8 Stress Proof Tips For The Holidays From Carrie Barish LMFT 

1. Think Beyond December Christmas Budget

"Decide how you will compensate in January and February if you spend more than you planned to."

2. Prepare for Awkward Questions @ Holiday Dinners

Dreading uncomfortable questions from relatives? "When are you having another baby?" "Are you still out of work?" Script answers beforehand, "Short responses are best. Some examples you might use, “You may be right,” “Really…tell me more.” “How did that work out?” “I don’t know yet.” “How did you decide?” “We haven’t decided yet.” “Good for you!” “How about that!” 

3. Avoid Family Drama

"It’s not the place to resolve deep seated issues or ensure you are finally seen and appreciated for who you truly are. Give that gift to yourself instead and set your intentions for the most beneficial outcome for all.  Also, remind your family on the way each gathering or event that when we listen better we connect better – and people really do want to connect at this time of year even if they do so a bit awkwardly."

4. Have a Pre-Holiday Family Meeting

"Have a calendar and access to determine funds available for the holidays. Color code engagement and holiday activity priorities on your calendar – must do’s, want to’s, thinking about’s, etc. Also note the materials needed prep time, travel time, as well as the anticipated time of the engagement or activity.  A plan in writing is a great way to reduce stress levels and respond rationally “yes” or “no” to additional invitations or commitments. 

5. Talk About Holiday Expectations

Divide and delegate activities and tasks so that everyone feels a part of and knows what to anticipate. This is a good time to teach your children about limits, capacities, and capabilities.

6. Put Kids To Work

Enlist your children in as many holiday traditions as you can. Have them practice their printing or cursive when addressing envelopes. Or, computer skills when printing address labels if that’s what you prefer. Have them decorate plan bags and wrap hostess/teacher gifts….have them sign the tags too.

7. Steal Some Family Time

"Carve out down time for yourself and your family as you normally do– put it on your holiday activity calendar too. We're all have more fun when we're rested!"

8. Buy Gifts in Bulk

Decide on your hostess/teacher gift – everyone gets wine, coffee, tin of cookies, or whatever…but make it the same for all. And if you have a teenager who can drive – send them out to buy the item.

The holiday season kicks off earlier every year. We found Christmas items beside Halloween decor in October. Santa was seen at a New Jersey mall on November 1st according to my friend Pam. She said he looked lonely and out of place. Just because the commercials are running for the latest sale, doesn't mean you have to run and be the first one there. Enjoy the season one day at a time...

Contact  Carrie Barish Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Tel. (858) 264-3897