For many, the holiday season is a time to gather with family and friends, share meals, and enjoy the season’s festivities. But it can also feel overwhelming for both you and your kids. Lateefah Watford, MD, an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist, shares tips on how to manage stress and proactively take care of yourself and your family.
Not all stress surfaces due to bad situations. Good situations, like the anticipation of being surrounded by loved ones, can also cause stress. And, stress is stress.
During the holiday season, we are often asked to participate in a lot of group activities, and we don’t want to fail our family and friends. I am the oldest of my siblings and everyone comes over for Thanksgiving, and that’s fun for me. However, for someone who may not want to host a big event, it’s sometimes hard to say “no” and it can be overwhelming. Other sources of stress include traveling, shopping, spending, and expectations around gift giving.
Also, in our culture, the holidays are built around family interactions, so this time of year can be bittersweet for those who have experienced trauma or loss.
The best way to start the holiday season is to be self-aware if this may be a stressful time for you. The holidays are often portrayed as being jovial and extravagant, and we sometimes throw ourselves into holiday activities too quickly. Be kind to yourself and only do what you can realistically do. Planning is also very helpful — budget money and proactively schedule time for self-care activities, whether that’s going for a walk, reading, or catching an episode of your favorite TV show.
If you’re missing a loved one, know that it’s normal to feel sad. Celebrate in ways that are meaningful to you, even if it’s not the family tradition.
Overall, lead by example and show kids the behaviors that you want them to pick up on, such as planning, while also being okay with a change in plans. Also, I encourage parents to keep their antennas up during the hectic holiday season — has anything happened in the community recently, such as shootings or suicides, that may be weighing on your kids?
Check in with your kids. Let them know there will be a lot of people around and activities during the holidays, so they’re not blindsided. Allow kids to have downtime and step in when you sense they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Stick to a schedule. When on school break, kids have more free —and potentially unstructured — time. Keeping up with familiar routines can reduce stress. Maintain consistent wake times and bedtimes, plus nap times for younger kids. To make schedules more fun, have your kids pick some activities they enjoy and add them into the schedule.
Provide balanced meals. Traditional holiday foods are special treats for kids. But to ensure kids have the energy they need during busy times, and to help maintain a consistent and healthy routine, it’s best to limit treats and continue to provide nutritional meals.
Be sensitive to experiences of loss. Help kids express their feelings by talking to them about your own feelings, showing them that feelings are important and that talking about them is okay. Help your children name their feelings and give them the appropriate language to express how they feel. Acknowledging feelings and providing a safe space to discuss how they are feeling is helpful for everyone and can help relieve stress and tension. For additional resources, read more about understanding childhood stress.
Discuss alcohol and drug use: I recommend having honest talks with your children about substance abuse and addiction. During the holiday celebrations there is the potential for increased access to alcoholic beverages. In addition, there may be family and friends who are visiting with their prescribed medications. Talk to your kids about the risks of consuming alcohol and medications not prescribed to them.
Have open conversations with your kids, family, and friends to help everyone enjoy the holidays with less stress. For more information and tips, also available in Spanish, check out this family guide on Kaiser Permanente’s Find Your Words website.