Navigating Holiday Stress: Common Therapy Topics and Coping Strategies


The holiday season, often portrayed as a time of joy and celebration, can bring about a myriad of stressors for many individuals. Psychotherapists have reported a surge in specific concerns during this time of the year, shedding light on the challenges people face amid the festive atmosphere. Here, we explore some of the most common therapy topics during the holiday season and strategies to cope with them.

Most Common Therapy Topics

Setting Boundaries Amid Festive Demands

Financial stress, grief, overcommitment, and high expectations can complicate the holiday season. Psychotherapist Sadaf Siddiqi notes that maintaining personal boundaries becomes a recurring theme in therapy sessions during this time.

The holidays demand a lot, from time to money to energy, making it crucial for individuals to set limits on commitments. Establishing boundaries, such as saying no to certain events or setting a budget for gifts, becomes a vital aspect of self-care.

Managing Expectations, Internal and External

Many individuals grapple with the pressure of living up to the expectations of others or their own internal standards during the holidays. Psychologist Justine Grosso highlights the inner conflict that arises from societal expectations, media portrayals, and family dynamics.

Rather than succumbing to “should” statements, individuals are encouraged to practice validating self-talk and approach the holidays with realistic expectations. The emphasis is on achieving a “good enough” holiday instead of an unattainable perfect day.

Intention Setting for Year-End Well-being

As the year draws to a close, therapists often work with clients to set intentions for the holiday season’s conclusion. Psychotherapist Sadaf Siddiqi suggests that individuals aspire to feel well-rested and relaxed, aiming for a sense of restoration rather than burnout. Regular self-check-ins, evaluating one’s feelings and needs on a daily basis, can contribute to a more mindful and intentional approach to the holiday season.

Loneliness and Isolation

The societal expectation of picture-perfect family gatherings and joyous friend groups can intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation during the holidays. Psychotherapist Meredith Van Ness acknowledges the struggle faced by those who lack the idealized support system.

For individuals navigating these emotions, seeking community involvement, volunteering, or connecting with chosen family can help combat loneliness and foster a sense of belonging.

Overcommitment Issues

Conversely, some individuals grapple with the challenge of overcommitment during the holiday season, often neglecting personal boundaries. Psychotherapist Sadaf Siddiqi underscores the importance of reflecting on one’s actual capacity before committing to various social engagements. By prioritizing “me” time and downtime, individuals can avoid burnout and ensure a more balanced and fulfilling holiday experience.

Family Dynamics and Past Traumas

Holiday gatherings often entail interactions with family members, bringing forth both positive and challenging dynamics. Psychotherapist Sadaf Siddiqi notes that clients frequently express anxiety about facing certain relatives or dealing with triggering topics.

Past traumas may resurface due to sensory experiences associated with the holidays. Therapists emphasize the importance of open communication and setting realistic expectations when navigating family dynamics during the festive season.

Coping with Grief

Grief, whether stemming from recent losses or anniversaries of past losses, is a prevalent theme in therapy during the holidays. Psychotherapist Meredith Van Ness recognizes that the joyful atmosphere can make grieving more challenging. She advises acknowledging and comforting those experiencing grief, fostering understanding and support during a season often associated with happiness.

Strategies for Self-Care

In the face of these challenges, therapists recommend prioritizing self-care practices. Maintaining routines, practicing mindfulness, regular exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep and nutrition contribute to overall well-being. Volunteering in the community is suggested as a way to foster gratitude and altruism.

For those struggling, seeking the support of mental health professionals is encouraged, with online platforms like Psychology Today and Inclusive Therapists providing accessible resources.

Seeking Support Amid Holiday Challenges

As individuals navigate the holiday season’s complexities, therapists emphasize the importance of self-awareness, setting boundaries, and seeking support when needed. By addressing these common concerns and implementing coping strategies, individuals can approach the holidays with a greater sense of resilience and well-being.


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