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Published on November 10, 2020

mom wrapping presents with kids

Holiday Stress or Spirit?

Think of the picture of the perfect family holiday scene is it from a card or a movie? While we like to hope we can create a picture perfect holiday, sometimes the holidays tend to be the exact opposite and full of stress.

Some of us set unrealistic expectations for big events and the holidays and family time often have the biggest expectations. No matter how hard we try, the holidays will never be cookie cutter- perfect.

This year swap holiday stress for holiday spirit. Taking a little time to make plans on how to best deal with the stressors that come with the holiday season can allow you to enjoy this time of year.

  • Keep expectations reasonable sounds easy but the quickest path to stress is let one moment of disappointment ruin the entire mood or occasion. You can only control so much, so learning to “go with the flow” can serve as a lifesaver on high stress occasions. Avoid comparisons more is not always better.
  • Set limitations on your time, energy and budget if needed – It is easy to become spread too thin during this busy season. Work or school commitments, parties, other family gatherings all take our energy and time. Additionally over spending during the holidays is a common stressor. Be honest with yourself and what you can handle/afford. Consider having pot luck dinner instead of purchasing food for a crowd. To keep stress manageable set boundaries and stick to them.
  • Plan ahead – what can you do ahead of time? What can you delegate others to help you with?

Ask for help with what you need, it may be emotional, financial or other help. Everyone needs help from time to time and if it helps you stay focused on the true spirit of the holiday season that is the goal. Sharing tasks allows everyone to feel like part of the celebration and that they are contributing.

Pause and focus on the joy- sometimes a favorite recipe doesn’t turn out right, or gifts don’t arrive on time. One of the best ways to deal with stressors, whether holiday or every day, is to take a few moments to pause and relax. Breathe deeply and even Laugh. Enjoy each other and focus on the small things and find joy in the holiday season, even when it seems hard to find.

As adults we have learned to cope with at least some of the holiday stressors over the years, for young children it can be hard to handle at times.

Suggestions to Help Your Children With Holiday Stress

  • Maintain a sense of normal/routine: This can be very difficult if you are traveling. Encourage your child to pack a favorite pillowcase, toy to snuggle with and a book to read at bedtime. Try to eat and sleep at the same times, although it might require a bit of extra work. Some children crave routine and need to stick to their normal schedule to help maintain their behavior.
  • Talk about upcoming activities: Explain where you are going, what is happening there. Is it a school performance or a visit to see relatives? It helps to plan ahead and understand the expectations of said event.
  • Set realistic expectations: Realize that your children are still children and depending on their age some of their behaviors may be age appropriate. For example a 2 year old will not likely sit quietly through dinner, or a 4-year-old may become impatient waiting and a 10 year old may seem bossy, especially to young children. Maintaining this perspective may help reduce tension.
  • Prepare for visiting relatives: If you only see these relatives once a year it is important to ready your child for their visit. Realize that very young children may not remember from year to year who these special people are. If possible remind them about what they did together the last time the relatives were in town. If your child needs reassurances let them know how long the visit will be and that you will be there for them.
  • Keep them busy: If you are willing, have the kids help you with some of the holiday preparations such as baking, decorating, or wrapping gifts. This is not as difficult as it sounds, it gives them some of the responsibilities and takes it off your shoulders.

As we look forward to the holiday season and all the potential it has, our hope is that you will embrace the holiday spirit and not let stress take away the joy of being together and celebrating. Take time to enjoy the small things and the moments that will be memories.

Twila Perkinson BS, CCLS, is an Avera Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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