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How to Handle the Holidays without Losing It

Holidays can be wonderful, but they can also feel like a mountain of obligations. Juggling all the activities and having to be around family can make anyone lose their patience. Even when the holidays are fun, certain situations can be challenging. 

In this article you’ll learn some tips for handling those challenges with confidence.

Pace Yourself to Minimize Stress

The busyness of the holidays makes keeping up with self-care difficult. There’s no time to get a work out in or enjoy some “me” time. Unfortunately, putting self-care aside contributes to feeling more irritable and stressed out. It’s much easier to react negatively when your emotional tank is empty.

By taking control of how you spend your time, you can create more of what you want. Of course, you still might choose to attend certain events, but you get to decide for how long and which ones.

So before the holidays, prioritize which events are most important to you. Be careful not to assume that everything is mandatory because that will only increase your frustration. 

Instead, take an hour to look at all the upcoming holiday events. Make it a fun coffee date with your partner so you can decide together what will work best. Printing out a large calendar will make it easier to see what’s too much and where you might want to do less.

Task: Doing less for the holidays doesn’t mean that you’re selfish. Trying to please everyone can make the holidays feel like a chore. You deserve to take care of yourself too. 

Do Something Different This Year

When holiday traditions feel more like obligations, it might be time to do something different. I’m not suggesting that you abandon traditions, but there’s no hard and fast rule that says that you can’t change things up a bit.

Decide what traditions you’d like to continue and which ones could be updated. For instance, is there something you’ve always wanted to do but felt like you couldn’t? 


  • Organize a holiday meal with your friends.
  • Do something fun like go to the movies, play games or go for a group hike.
  • Volunteer at a shelter to avoid loneliness. 
  • Travel or do a “staycation” instead doing the same thing every year.

Tip: Give yourself permission to start a new tradition to make the holidays fun again.

How to Avoid Family Drama

Holidays can bring out the worst in families when there are unresolved issues. Old hurts get disguised as sarcastic jokes. The tendency to gossip creates tension. Drinking too much creates some heated arguments that can do damage. Before you know it, the holidays have become anything but merry.

Before seeing family, identify those behaviors that provoke arguments. Every family has hot topics that are best to avoid. Even when you don’t initiate it, participating in hurtful behaviors will contribute to the family drama. Here are some quick Do’s and Don’ts to help you out:

  • Do avoid hot topics that create negative intensity.
  • Do catch any negative self-talk about yourself and others.
  • Do focus on being light and polite. 
  • Do practice detachment when you need some space.
  • Don’t participate in gossip or criticizing others.
  • Don’t predict a negative outcome.
  • Don’t make critical or sarcastic comments.
  • Don’t poke fun at someone else’s expense.

Tip: Knowing what pitfalls to avoid will make it easier to create a more meaningful holiday.

How to Handle Criticism

In every family there’s usually one person who causes problems whether it’s the alcoholic, the jokester, or the one who always seems to say the wrong thing. When you find yourself reacting, here are some tools to handle it graciously. 

  • Let them know how you feel instead of holding it in. Holding onto the pain only intensified it. 
  • When expressing your concerns, keep it short and simple. The more explaining you do, the more likely you will find yourself reacting defensively.
  • Use “I statements” that focus on how you feel and the specific behavior that triggers it.
  • Consider the source, what someone says about you isn’t necessarily the truth.
  • Remember that hurt people hurt people. Practice good boundaries by not taking on their misery.
  • Avoid confrontation when a person is intoxicated or highly upset. 

Another way to handle criticism is to practice detachment. Not everything requires a response. Sometimes, taking a breath and ask yourself “How important is it?” is the best alternative. Detachment means lovingly not responding directly to what’s happening. 

Tip: Practicing detachment doesn’t mean condoning the behavior, it means not reacting to it.

Don’t Forget About Boundaries

Not wanting to upset others is what keeps most people from setting boundaries this time of year. The assumption that’s it’s easier to say nothing usually creates resentment later.

When people give too much, the spirit of giving gets lost. By giving yourself permission to do something different, you are setting healthy boundaries for yourself. You get to control your time and emotional energy. Sometimes, this creates a new pattern where others start realizing that saying no or doing less has its benefits for them too. 

Here are some questions to get some ideas. 

  1. Consider what would make you happy this holiday season – and take steps to do it!
  2. Let yourself opt out of something you don’t want to do or do less of it. Remember you have a choice!
  3. Do something to take care of yourself around that thing you don’t want to do.
  4. If you struggle with feeling guilty, how can you honor what you need?

Tip: Start by setting boundaries with someone who is more likely to be supportive to increase confidence.

Be Proactive Around Old Hurts

Old hurts tend to surface around the holidays but obsessing over them will likely ruin the fun. Don’t let past hurts control the present. 

Consider what you need to take care of yourself. Getting stuck in the “victim version” of the story is common. Instead, look at it from their perspective. Be willing to acknowledge your part in the situation to increase empathy and change your version of the story.

Resentments keep you focused on the past instead of what’s right in front of you. You end up missing the good stuff because the hurt makes it hard to see what’s good!

Find the line between giving and self-care. If you feel resentful you are probably over-giving.

Tips for handling resentments:

  • Do some journal writing to express the feelings.
  • Find neutral topics to discuss.  
  • If you need to handle the resentment directly, name the behavior without judgment.
  • If you can’t listen, you’re likely too upset to talk.
  • Be willing to consider their point of view, the truth is never absolute.
  • Watch out for negative expectations. Don’t predict the day before it happens.

Using the Tool of Gratitude

The holidays can be a painful time for those struggling with loss. All the messages about gratitude can feel fake where you’re hurting. 

Start by honoring how you feel no matter what. If you’re hurt and angry, let that be okay and find a healthy way to express those feelings. Expressing emotions helps get you back to a more neutral place emotionally. Find someone to share what’s happening so you feel less alone. Dealing with the pain of the holidays becomes much harder in isolation. 

Then, see if you can write down ten things that are working in your life. This becomes a gentle invitation to get your mind focused on what’s good. This exercise may bring up needs that you haven’t let yourself ask for. Let your self ask for them as a way of taking better care of yourself this year.

  • If you need support, ask for it.
  • If you need a hug, ask for it.
  • If you need someone to do the dishes, ask for it.
  • If someone offers to help you, let him.
  • If someone compliments you, accept it.

Another option is to sit down and feel the love you have in your life. Even if you don’t feel loved, think of someone who loves you. If they’re still living, tell them how much they mean to you. If they have passed, thank them silently and let yourself have a good cry.

Final Thoughts

Managing emotions around the holidays doesn’t have to be complicated. Setting boundaries isn’t easy but taking some steps towards acknowledging your needs can go a long way. Keeping up with your self-care will give you the emotional reserves to handle difficult situations with grace. The ability to advocate for yourself can be the best gift you can give yourself and your family.

How to Handle the Holidays without Losing It

Michelle Farris, LMFT

Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping people with codependency and anger management. She shows others how to be more authentic in relationships by setting healthy boundaries and improving self-care. In her early twenties, she fell in love with the process of personal growth. She is a therapist who “walks her talk” and loves supporting others towards positive change. She writes a blog called Relationship Rehab that offers helpful tools to create healthy and happy relationships. Michelle also offers online classes on anger and codependency for additional support. Signup for her FREE 5 day email course on anger.

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APA Reference
Farris, M. (2019). How to Handle the Holidays without Losing It. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Dec 2019 (Originally: 16 Dec 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Dec 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.