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How to Cope with Holiday Stress

While the winter holiday season is presented as a magical time of year, for so many, it can bring a great deal of stress. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports 64% of individuals who live with a mental illness felt their wellbeing worsen during the holidays (NAMI, 2014). The American Psychological Association (APA) surveyed that 38% of people report increased stress during the holiday season (Berktold & Greenberg, 2006). So, why do people feel so challenged by the end of the year? Many report increased stress due to lack of time, changed routine, strained relationships, societal pressures, presence of triggers, and family dynamics. Financial strain, shortened daylight, and overstimulation due to strong sensory presence (lights, songs, advertising, crowds) can all make it more difficult for people to navigate the additional stress that arises during this time of year. For those who might be struggling with Holiday stress or depression, consider these tips and tricks for coping.

  1. Accept and validate your feelings and boundaries. There can be a lot of pressure to engage in certain activities. Think about what limitations you might have beforehand and have patience for others as well. Communicating your intentions clearly and respectfully is best. Setting boundaries is typically uncomfortable- remember your needs and feelings are valid. 
  2. The holidays can be centered around giving and appreciating others. While this is important, don’t forget to give that same care to yourself. Engage in activities that make you happy and carve out time just for yourself. You deserve the same peace!
  3. Plan ahead for triggers, or upsetting situations. Think about the space you will be in and what your surroundings will likely be during the time that is causing you stress. Try to anticipate what may be upsetting to you, such as the presence of a certain person, object, or word. Plan ahead for how you might cope with these triggers, such as deep breathing or bringing a comforting object with you. Rhythmic activities such as brushing a pet’s fur can be calming. 
  4. Deep belly breathing can be a great way to relax the nervous system and center oneself. Ideally, position yourself comfortably- this may not be possible given one’s circumstances. Breathe in deeply through your nose, inhaling for 5 seconds. You can place a hand on your belly to feel it rise as you breathe in, ensuring the breath is deep. Hold the breath for a couple seconds before beginning to exhale. When you exhale, exhale through your mouth for 7 seconds, feeling your belly deflate. The key here is to exhale for longer than you inhale, forcing yourself to slow down. 
  5. Relaxing one’s muscles can be another great way to discreetly cope in tense situations. Ideally, sit down comfortably for this activity, although it is not necessary. The idea of this exercise is to choose one muscle group of your body at a time to purposefully tense really hard for a few seconds, then relax. Consciously make your body aware of how it feels to be tense versus relax. This helps reconnect with oneself and release tension in a discrete manner.
  6. Engage your senses. This method helps reconnect you to your surroundings as a form of grounding, using a count of 5-4-3-2-1. First, look around and name five things you see. The more conscious effort you put into this the better- the candy cane print on a present versus the kitchen table (although any level of detail still works). Next, recognize 4 things that you physically feel, such as your hair on your neck or the softness of a sweater. Then name 3 things you hear, such as a person’s voice or sounds in the distance. Lastly, name 2 things you can taste and 1 thing you can smell (these can be a bit difficult). If you foresee engaging a certain sense to be difficult, you can plan ahead to bring something with you, such as a sour candy for taste or perfume for smell. Consciously engaging your sense as a grounding technique can be quite helpful.
  7. Reset your system with cold water. This can be just splashing cold water on your face in the bathroom, or even dunking your face into a bowl of ice water. The shock to the system can snap you out of being overwhelmed and ground you into the moment. 
  8. Move your body. With decreasing temperatures it can be easy to get stuck inside with limited physical activity. Making an active effort to move your body can look like dancing around, playing with a pet, following a yoga tutorial, and much more. For those with limited activity ranges, there are plenty of ways to customize activities, such as seated yoga. Getting active can increase endorphins to boost your mood. 

While coping with stress this season, remember that you have resources available to you. Consider who in your circle of family and friends you can rely on or share your feelings with. This person can be helpful for a moment of support or coregulation. You can also reach out to a number of crisis lines and hotlines that can guide you through your stress. We are wishing all of the members of our community a peaceful Holiday season and an intentional start to the new year.

Crisis Lines and Hotlines, all anonymous and free:

  • RTS Crisis Line 24 Hours: (650) 692-7273
  • STAR Suicide Prevention Crisis Line 24 hours: (650) 579-0350
  • Crisis Text Line 24 Hours: text HOME to 741741
  • Mental Health SF Warmline 24 Hours: (855) 845-7415

Helpful Free Apps:

  • Finch (available for both Apple and Android devices): Finch is a self-care pet app designed to help those struggling with stress, mental health, and motivation. By doing daily tasks to help your pet grow, you complete quick self-care tasks.
  • Calm Harm (available for both Apple and Android devices): This app helps users ride the wave of the urge to self-harm through comforting, distracting, expressive, and releasing activities. The app also assists users with a deep breathing technique for further support with regulating emotions and staying in the moment. 
  • Clear Fear (available for both Apple and Android devices): Clear App offers a range of activities to help users cope with anxiety, built ideally for ages 11-19 years old. Resources include but are not limited to an anxiety tracker, a journal, activity log, goal-setting, creating a support network, and mindfulness exercises. 



Greenberg, A., & Berktold, J. (2006, October 24). Holiday stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from 

Press releases. NAMI. (2014, November 19). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from