Don’t let the holiday season turn you into ‘The Grinch’

  • Published
  • By Capt. Megan Davis
  • 52nd Medical Operations Squadron -- Mental Health Provider

The holiday season can be an extremely busy, stressful time of the year. The season is packed with obligations, activities and expectations. In order to manage holiday stress, in a positive way, consider the following tips.


Think about what matters most to you during the holidays family, travel, traditions, relaxation, etc. Focus you energy on only those things, and don’t be afraid to say no to some potential obligations.


The holiday season can be expensive. Traveling, holiday activities and gift giving can leave credit cards maxed and finance-related stress high. To help stay within financial means, don’t feel obligated to attend every holiday even or to buy every acquaintance a gift. Instead, consider adopting new gift-giving traditions, such as Secret Santa or White Elephant practices that allow each member of a group of family, friends, co-workers, etc. to purchase a gift for only one other person in that group. 

Don’t do drama

Every family has its drama. Topics such as religion, politics and family history can cause tensions to run high.  To avoid family drama:

  • Set boundaries, and assert needs. Don’t be afraid to say, “I love and respect you too much to argue with you about this.”

  • If necessary, take yourself out of the situation. Go play video games with other family members, or join another family activity.

  • Change the subject when a conversation becomes unpleasant. Say things like, “Who wants to play a game?”

Spilt time smartly

Deciding who to spend time with over the holidays can be challenging. The fact is; there is no way to visit everyone. This decision can be especially difficult for couples who often must choose whose family to visit. “We spent time with your family last year,” is a common argument.

In general, people also worry about hurting loved ones’ feelings – when visiting isn’t possible. Being stationed in Germany presents an extra layer to this challenge; it is expensive to fly between here and the states.

Keep these things in mind when deciding how to split your time.

  • Accept that there is no way to please everyone. Set loving, but firm, boundaries with family members who have a difficult time accepting what you are, and aren’t, able to do. Don’t be afraid to tell them things like, “As much as I would love to visit, flying home this year just isn’t in my budget.”

  • Compromise is key in a loving relationship. Taking turns spending the holidays with each other’s families each year can help alleviate stress for couples.

  • Honor your mental health. Remember that the holiday season is also your break. Before deciding with whom to spend time, ask yourself if spending time with certain people with help or hurt your mental health, and base your decision on the answer. 

Find a foster family

Sometimes, people are unable to visit family members over the holiday season. This can result in isolation, loneliness, disappointment and frustration. Even if you can’t see your family this year, you don’t have to spend the holidays alone. Instead, find a faux family.

  • Spend time with coworkers or friends. Some of them are also likely to be unable to visit their loved ones this season.

  • Use various media avenues to communicate with loved ones and be present for the holidays.  WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook all provide ways you can call when your family is opening gifts, eating dinner or sitting around talking.

  • Alternatively, take advantage of the alone time to engage in activities you truly enjoy and value. 

Have patience with parenting

The holiday season present some unique challenges for parents. Deciding how much money to spend on gifts and what values to instill in children can be tough. The pressure to make the holidays “magical” for children can also be stressful. Some parents also find themselves explaining to their children why other children got larger, more expensive gifts.

Also, while it can be wonderful to have children home for the holidays, they are typically home from school for two weeks. Working parents might have to figure out where their kids will go all day during winter break, which is an added stress.

Here are some survival strategies for parents.

  • Rely on other parents. Share ideas, struggles and advice. Take turns babysitting each other’s children, going on a date nights and spending time with friends.

  • Remind children of your family’s values – of why the holiday season is important to your family. Explain the challenges often faced with spending outside of your means. 

  • Be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel overwhelmed and exhausted because the children are home all day. Feeling this way does not make someone a bad parent. Know when you need a break, and reach out for support.

Take care of you

Amidst the holiday craziness, it is very easy to get out of routines, overeat, overdrink and under sleep.  Unfortunately, these things then increase stress and negatively impact one’s mood.  It is important to make taking care of ourselves a priority during the holidays. To avoid a potentially vicious cycle of stress, try these tips.

  • Before consuming alcohol, have a plan. Know your limits; count drinks; have a designated driver. Stick to your drink limit, and prepare a response for when friends and family say, “Aw come on, have another with us.”

  • Enjoying everything in moderation is key. Enjoy the food. Just know that those 1 to 2 pounds typically gained over the holiday season per year can add up over the years.

  • Choose your calories wisely. Eat healthy most days of the week, so you can really enjoy that Christmas dinner. Think about the “opportunity cost” of the calories you are consuming. Alcohol, sodas and punch provide many, empty calories. They have no nutritional value. So, make room for holiday treats by limiting empty calories.

  • Protect your sleep. Sleep is the backbone of good health. Poor sleep can increase weight gain, stress and susceptibility to illness while also negatively impacting mood. Make sleep a priority, and keep a consistent sleep schedule.

  • Stay active. Instead of watching TV with loved ones, go for a walk, or sneak in some gym time. Exercise is the best treatment for stress and depression. Plus, it helps burn off the extra calories in holiday foods.

Mind memories

The holidays can bring up a lot of pain for some. A death in the family, a divorce, a break up, or another traumatic event can cause can serve as a painful reminder of many situations. In order to make coping with these events a little easier, consider these tips.

  • Giving yourself some grace. Be kind to yourself. Remember, it is okay to struggle - and for others to know you are struggling. Reach out to others for support.

  • If there was a death in the family, celebrate that person’s memory this holiday season. Make space for them in your home. Perhaps hang decorations that remind you of them.  Maybe cook their favorite dish, or tell funny stories about them. Make this holiday season about celebrating that person’s life.

  • For those experiencing traumatic memories, remember, you can “rewrite your script.”  People cannot go back in time and un-experience what they have been through. However, they can change their perspectives on bad memories. Memories are reminders of what has happened. They are not our present reality. Focus on making new memories that can replace painful ones.

 Don’t celebrate; make the season great

Some people do not celebrate the holidays - for various religious, cultural or ideological reasons. However, much of society embraces the holiday season; every store seems to look like the North Pole this time of year. This can leave people who don’t celebrate the season feeling left out or ostracized.  Here are a few tips that can help.

  • Share your values, traditions and beliefs with others.

  • Stay connected with others. When people feel left out, it is easy for them to further isolate themselves by turning down invitations, staying at home and avoiding conversations. Resist this temptation.  Spend time with others, and continue to engage in activities you enjoy.


The holidays can be a tough time to be single. For those who wish they had a partner, the season can serve as a stark reminder of their single status. Those who are happily single often face family members who ask “when are you going to bring home a nice girl/guy?” If either of these sceneries hit home, here are some ways to embrace the season while single.

  • Make it a priority to stay connected with others. Fight the urge to isolate from friends and family, which can increase feelings of loneliness. Remind yourself that you are not alone, even if it may feel that way. Make it a point to make plans with other single friends and talk about single woes together.

  • If certain family members make it a point to share negative opinions about your single status, try setting some boundaries. Say things like, “I really am happy being single right now. Can we please talk about something else?” Alternatively, simply “blow it off.”  Try not to get worked up about one person’s opinion or off-hand comment. Don’t let the pressures imposed by others change what you value.

These tips are meant to help people get through the holidays, but if you find yourself struggling through the season, please don’t struggle alone. Here are some places turn to for help.

The Mental Health Clinic: 452-8285

Family Advocacy: 452-8279

Airman and Family Readiness: 452-6422

Chaplain Service: 452-6711/6281

Health Promotions: 452-7385

Military and Family Life Consultant: 452-6422