How moms can cope with holiday stress

It always happens around this time of year. Moms come into my office, their faces contorted with shame. They sit down on my couch, take a deep breath, and reluctantly confess that they hate the holiday season.

Every year at this time I find myself consoling moms who feel extremely guilty about hating the holidays. I don’t know where this guilt comes from. Moms seem to expect themselves to be awash in good cheer all season long. But there are a multitude of reasons why moms might be miserable during the holidays. For example:

  1. Pressure to buy the “perfect gift:” Moms often feel pressure to buy “perfect gifts” for their kids (and everyone else in their families). For moms trying to buy gifts on a budget (that is, most moms), this can be especially challenging.
  2. Pressure to throw the “perfect holiday celebration:” I hear about this one a lot. Moms seem to think that they need to give the White House holiday party a run for its money. Everything has to be perfect, and every guest needs to leave happy.
  3. Holiday travel: Many moms have to take car trips or plane rides with their kids. I don’t need to tell you about the unique hell that is long-distance travel with young children.
  4. Too much family time: During the holidays we generally spend more time with extended family. Needless to say, this can be a source of stress, particularly if moms have to be in close quarters with extended family members (or even with their own immediate family members. Have you ever shared one hotel room with several members of your immediate family? I have. And never will again.)
  5. Schedule overload: Moms’ schedules are usually super-packed during the holidays, with holiday parties, kids’ school concerts, and other holiday-related events. This leaves little time for moms to take breaks, and demands that they do a lot of multi-tasking.
  6. Loneliness: Holiday time can be tough for those moms who have lost loved ones with whom they used to spend the holiday.
  7. This crazy year: This year, the holidays are occurring against a backdrop of national and international turmoil.

Clearly, holidays can be a minefield for moms. Here’s how moms can cope during the holidays:

  1. Consider the worst-case scenario: What would be the worst thing that would happen if, say, your kid didn’t get the exact toy she wanted? She’d be bummed, and then she’d get over it.
  2. Set reasonable expectations for yourself: You do not need to throw the greatest holiday celebration of all time. Holiday celebrations do not need to be perfect or over-the-top to be enjoyable. Party guests are easily won over. (My tip? Just serve pigs in a blanket.)
  3. Prepare ahead of time: Set a schedule and deadlines for yourself; doing so will alleviate anxiety. Break large tasks (gift purchasing, home decorating, food prep) into smaller pieces, and set short-term, manageable goals for yourself. Delegate tasks to your partner or other family members. If you are traveling with your kids, prepare all you can ahead of time to ensure a relatively smooth trip.
  4. Cope ahead: Anticipating that too much family time will drive you bananas? Cope ahead for it. Think about likely scenarios in which you might find yourself (i.e. sitting with your partner’s drunk cousin as he rails against the internet) and consider how you might respond to them. Coping ahead can also help you manage feelings of loss. If you know you will be sad that you will not be spending the holidays with a cherished loved one, make a plan for yourself. Perhaps carry on a tradition in his/her honor?
  5. Give to others in a selfless way: Devote time and/or money to causes you care about. This is a particularly effective strategy for moms affected by the political and social unrest in our country.
  6. Take care of yourself: Make sure you are sleeping and eating right, and allow yourself to indulge a bit. You can be kind to yourself, even if you have a to-do list a mile long. In fact you’ll be more productive with that to-do list if you give yourself some rest time.
  7. And perhaps most importantly…Give yourself a break: Hating the holidays a little bit is ok. Being stressed at holiday time is bad enough; if you’re stressed and also feel guilty about being stressed, you’re adding insult to injury. Commiserating with other holiday-weary parents is a good place to start. Over spiked eggnog, perhaps?
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I’m Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, Ph.D., aka DrCBTMom. combines the expert advice of a self-help book with the warmth and readability of a mommy blog.
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