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Managing Holiday Stress

December 6, 2019

By Megan Gosse, DNP, PMHNP-BCPsychiatric Associates

The holiday season can be stressful for a multitude of reasons. Gatherings with relatives, the pressure to find and give just the right gifts and expectations of making the perfect holiday feast can increase anxiety and blunt the positive feelings holidays are supposed to evoke. 

Our lovely winter weather in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas doesn't help, either. Those shorter, darker days and cold temperatures can seem to last forever.

If you’re feeling the weight of holiday stress, try these tactics. If your stress doesn’t end after the holidays or seems to be worse than usual, consider reaching out to a mental health care professional for help. 

Identify what (and who) causes your stress 

During the holiday season, it’s increasingly important to care for ourselves. It’s also critical to set boundaries with the people we love (or don’t). 

If spending time with certain members of your extended family is what’s putting knots in your stomach, consider limiting the time you spend together. Rather than forcing yourself to spend time in an uncomfortable setting, set clear limits for the time you will spend with extended family and shift the focus to your partner, kids, pets or yourself.  


If you’re the person who tends to “get things done” within your family, you may feel extra pressure during the holidays. Remember, though, that getting things done doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. 

Find tasks that others in your family can do. You may be surprised to find that offloading even a few jobs can lighten your load considerably.  

Take care of yourself 

Self-care is always important and should be a daily habit. That means doing the things you know will make the next day easier—like eating well and getting a good night’s sleep. Exercise (even if it’s just a walk around the block) will help you clear your head and get those good endorphins going.  

Watching your alcohol consumption is also important. Although a drink or two (or five) is a traditional part of many holiday celebrations, it’s important to be mindful of the effects alcohol can have on your physical and mental health. 

Alcohol tends to worsen anxiety and depression, for instance. It can also interrupt your sleep patterns, leaving you tired the next morning—which is the last thing you need during this busy season. 

Scale back on spending if needed 

If coming up with ideal (and expensive) gifts for your family keeps you up at night, talk to them about the goal of the holidays. Certainly, it isn’t solely to get the newest iPhone. Consider minimizing the importance of giving gifts, and start a new tradition of focusing on family time. 

Creating a budget can help, too. Then plan your purchases (and use a little creativity) so you can stay within that budget. This article from Living Well Spending Less may help. 

Reach out for help if needed

Sometimes “stress” isn’t just stress. Feelings of pressure and irritability can also be symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD or another problem. 

If you think what you’re feeling could be something more than the holiday blues, reach out to a mental health professional. There are many therapists and psychiatrists in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas who can help you begin to enjoy life more fully. 

Megan Gosse, DNP, PMHNP-BC

Megan is a Psychiatry-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with a passion for helping those with mental health disorders. She works with adults on a wide range of mental health disorders. She has particular interest in mindfulness techniques, anxiety and depressive disorders, and schizophrenia. She especially enjoys working with students beginning their college education. Megan believes mindfulness techniques, lifestyle changes and cognitive behavioral therapy-used in conjunction with prescribed medications-are critical in providing high-quality mental health care.