By Tracy L. Skaer, PharmD, Professor of Pharmacotherapy

Holiday family gatherings should be joyful and stress-free but this may not be the case for some. While family dynamics can be complicated, the best solution may not be to skip the holidays entirely.

Here are some tips on how to cope with holiday stress and anxiety. First ask, “What is it about this time of year that dampens your mood and/or causes anxiety?” Perhaps unhappy memories, difficult relatives, life changes (e.g. divorce, death in the family, financial struggles), monotonous sameness, and/or lowered defenses (e.g. cold and flu season, poor eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, sleeping less) are root causes of your distress. Recognizing the causes of holiday stress can help transform your outlook and make some changes to better control holiday blues. Focus on stresses that can be controlled including changing your plans and responses to stressful situations. Here’s what to do:

  1. Make some changes. You don’t have to do the same thing year after year. If you are too overwhelmed to host ask another family member to take over.
  2. Take care of yourself first. If your anxiety is rooted in a long-standing family conflict, don’t expect to resolve these underlying issues during the holidays. It is best not to have high expectations that you will be able to make significant emotional breakthroughs with other family members. Focus instead on your own state of mind and delay confronting such issues during a less volatile time of year.
  3. Pace yourself. Don’t overdo it; set limits and stick to them in advance of the family gathering. Make reservations at a hotel and spend just a few hours at the holiday gathering versus overnight. Stay one or two nights at your parents’ house instead of three or four.
  4. Enjoy the present moment. Leave past and present stressors, judgement, and negative thoughts at the door. Be mindful and enjoy the positive experiences including thoughts, humor, emotions, and sensations (smells, noises, tastes, sights, and touch).

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle