Editorial: Ho-hum days: dealing with holiday stress

Tips to make the season truly joyful

By Julie Newberg-Media Relations/Arizona State University

Happy holiday! That is a tall order for some people during the holidays who may envision a time filled with too much to do, interactions with unpleasant family members, and a season focused on things rather than experiences.  

Arizona State University Associate Professor and family therapist Larry Dumka offers insight into making the most of the season by focusing on things that really matter to you and those you love. 

1. Ask yourself what you value about the holidays and clarify what is most meaningful to you. 

2. Prioritize your time since it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fit in all of the activities. We all have 168 hours a week and no more. We also have other responsibilities, said Dumka, associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU. 

3. Have a conversation with loved ones about which events you want to focus on and scheduling time together. 

4. If you are the person who takes care of most holiday tasks in your household and would like that to change, talk with others in your home and tell them how you think the usual routine should be altered. 

5. Ditto for changing a holiday tradition. “Ask family members what is important to them as well as telling them what is important to you. You will need to have household members on board with any change, especially those who liked the old plan,” Dumka said.  Expect pushback if you try to change a holiday tradition. “That is inevitable. It is how a family’s emotional system works,” he said. 

6. If you have to see a family member who you do not particularly enjoy being with, realize what your tolerance is and plan things that do not overtax your coping resources. Decide if it is worth it to have a conversation with that person to try to improve the relationship or if you can plan a way to interact that allows you to keep your integrity as well as being respectful. 

“That’s a tough balance. Couples have to do that with each other, too,” Dumka said.

7. Take care of yourself during the holidays by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating and drinking in moderation. “These are ways to keep your strength and resources up during a time that has a lot of emotion connected to it because friends and family are getting together,” Dumka said.

8. If you are a college student or doing something else and no longer living with your parents, there is something important to keep in mind. You may have newfound freedoms and returning to a home environment can involve adjustments. Be respectful of parents and their rules. It might also be a good time to have a mature conversation. Dumka said, “Young adults can initiate an adult conversation with their parents rather than act in a child role. I think most parents have an expectation that that is going to happen,” he said. 

9. If someone has lost a loved one, make a special effort to include them in activities.

10. Realize that the purpose of the holidays is celebrating togetherness, relationships, and the good things in life.

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