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November 26, 2021

Holiday Stressors & 3 Ways to Take Back the Joy of the Season

Post By:
Shahla Nikpour, LCSW-QS, LCAT
In-House Contributor
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Phoenix Thriving Therapy LLC
Guest Contributor:

Let’s take a moment to pause. Inhale. Take some deep breaths.  Close your eyes for a moment if you want to.  Clear your mind. Wipe it like a clean slate so you can find your truth to these questions:

What is it that you want this holiday season? What is it that you need? What images come to mind? Is it tranquility? Is it connection? Is it gratitude? Down time alone or with your significant other? Do you want to create more family or friend rituals? 

For some, these questions may cause a cringe or a pang of sadness. The holidays can be extremely triggering, for many different reasons.  Some people may view gatherings or holiday functions as an obligation. For some, these gatherings mean time with toxic family members or the anticipation of uncomfortable dynamics. For others, the many to-dos of the holiday season can feel simply overwhelming. 

Whether you are welcoming the holidays or feeling anxiety as they approach, here are some simple ways you can take back the holiday season and feel true joy.

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Set Aside Time Every Day to Have a Conversation with Yourself

Ask yourself the questions I asked you above.  Ask more questions. Dive deeper. It is so important to explore what it is you need, and sit with those answers. Like a form of meditation, allot five minutes to yourself each day in the morning to ask what you need today and allot five minutes in the evening to check in with how you feel, and what you may need tomorrow. Daily “conversations with yourself” can help you increase self-awareness and express your needs to others more effectively.  

Boundaries and Self-Care

For women reading this who have families, women in relationships, or for our empowered single women, one of the most paramount things to be mindful of during the holidays is a sense of your own boundaries and prioritizing self-care.  

During the holidays, many of my patients discuss the pressure. The pressure to be the dutiful daughter, the pressure from their partners when it comes to the children or in-laws, the pressure to meet all of the financial commitments, the pressure to properly handle uncomfortable situations, the pressure to attend every event and festivity. 

When I address this with patients in therapy, I hear things like:

“But family is everything.” 

“It’s always been this way I can’t just stop or change.” 

“I have to make sure that I see all my family members, help with this, take care of that, etc.” 

I hear things like:

“Being around my family makes me feel anxious and I just don’t look forward to it.” 

“I am trying to date and find a new relationship but the holidays make me feel more alone.”  

Other patients discuss financial stressors like:

“I don’t want to (or can’t) spend that much money on gifts during the holidays with all the unknowns and I feel horrible about it.” 

There are grab bags of emotions I hear from people this time of year. Normalizing all these statements is so important.  We must recognize that we are human beings with deep feelings and many of us are experiencing the same emotions.  

Dr. Nicole LePera shares in How to Do the Work (2021) that boundaries are important for every relationship, and highlights that the most important boundary is with yourself.  “They are the retaining walls that protect you from what feels inappropriate, unacceptable, inauthentic, or just plain undesired.”  

When we start to implement boundaries, it’s normal to have inherent feelings of guilt. But boundaries are the essential foundation of strong, healthy, and authentic relationships with others and with ourselves. Sometimes we don’t have the right words to use when trying to implement a boundary.  Here are some phrases you can say:

“I am starting to feel pressured / a sense of pressure and I feel uncomfortable.” 

“Right now, I need to work on balancing other important priorities first.” 

“I am not really comfortable explaining that / talking about that.” 

“I am feeling really tired / run down and I need to take a break.”

I know many of you are wearing multiple hats, and COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation.  There was no manual or playbook on how to raise children through a global pandemic, dating and staying connected in your marriage or partnership, or managing the many other difficulties hurled our way. We got no warning, and many of these stressors will remain throughout the holidays. So be compassionate and gentle with yourself as you create manageable boundaries with your family, friends, and co-workers. 


For women who are in relationships or married, it is important to check in with your partner, spouse or significant other about what the holidays mean to them.  What things do they look forward to and what things do they struggle with? It’s important to connect to your partner in a way that is open and be willing to work on crafting solutions together.  

Couples share with me that one has a deep connection to spending the holidays with his or her family while the other partner doesn’t have the same sentiments.  Value your differences and have that dialogue. You can still hold on to your boundaries, while lovingly collaborate on manageable solutions. Respect each other’s perspectives and experiences and focus on a compromise. 

Identify how your behaviors during the holidays impact the relationship as well. How can you support one another through these differences in holiday traditions?  If your partner is a social butterfly at holiday functions and you find yourself standing in the kitchen alone, gently remind your partner that you want to feel inclusive. Periodically check in with each other during social situations. 

Focus on your needs and not their shortcomings.  Maintain focus on the challenges that both of you are facing.  Don’t place blame on each other when things become challenging; show basic concern for each other during this time. And remember, your partner is not going to be able to fulfill all your needs all the time, and vice versa. 

Finally, it is important that you and your partner create your own holiday rituals and spend time connecting with each other. Again, discuss parameters of what that means. Some examples can be a special holiday breakfast or fun outing / experience.  One creative idea is an Act of Gratitude Calendar. Like an Advent Calendar, you and your partner can create a calendar of small acts of gratitude that lead up to the holiday, like leaving a love note, planning a surprise, or sharing a memory about a special adventure or experience you had together. Don’t feel like getting that elaborate? Creating your own holiday rituals can be as simple as no phones during a date night or making sure you stick to the commitment of regular quality time. If you are balancing children in the mix this will require more thoughtful planning, but prioritizing your relationship is a priority worth making. 

Covid-19 and the Holidays 

For many, holiday gatherings with family and friends have been long-anticipated, but for others, there is still concern. Lately, many of my patients have been asking how to navigate these conversations with family and friends.  It’s important that you check in with yourself first and see what makes YOU feel comfortable. If you don’t feel safe, or being around large groups of people is going to induce more anxiety, then honor those feelings.  You are not going to be present in a holiday function if you are anxious.  If you feel pressure around this, here’s some language you can use:

“I know how important it is for us to come together as a family, but this year I or (we) chose to make a difficult decision due to safety concerns.”

“I feel a lot of anxiety around this and want to make the decision that will bring peace.”

Everyday, we pass people by on the street, in the Starbucks line, or at the store who are battling something, and for some, the holidays can make it worse. Be gentle and compassionate during this time- and start with yourself. 

Remember, the holidays are not about “perfection.” It’s about practicing gratitude, especially during two years of uncertainty, loss, and extreme stress. It’s about connection first with yourself, and then others. And it starts by setting realistic expectations and boundaries so that you can create or co-create your holidays and experience the true joy of the season.