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Managing Family Holiday Stress


By Dinah Torres Castro

Many parents look ahead to the holidays and become anxious and worried. Not all of us have rosy fantasies of the perfect holiday. As I was driving to work the other day, a parody of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” was playing on the car radio, and it reminded me of what a challenging time the holidays can be for parents of young children. Managing holiday stress is a real problem as parents get ready for the holiday season. Try to keep these tips in mind:

Be flexible—plan family activities, but be ready and willing to accept changes as opportunities arise.

Reduce the pressure you put on yourself by reducing your expectations—be glad and grateful for the time that you spend with your family. You may think that it will be fun to have your family play board games, but it turns out to be a nightmare. You can still have fun, but realize that this activity doesn’t work for everyone. Try to enjoy the board games with those who want to participate, and make the best of it.

Manage stress—if you have time-consuming family traditions, try modifying them to make them easier for you. Make sure you have time to relax and enjoy the holidays. Take time to read, and share your favorite holiday stories with the kids.

Prioritize activities and find a balance—you may not get to do all the holiday activities, but remember there’s always next year…and you may just start a new tradition of doing some activities every other year. This could save you lots of time, worry, and money.

Take control over the holidays—whenever the holidays make you feel out of control, take a time-out for yourself. When you feel stressed, you’re more likely to neglect your needs, but that is when it’s most important to take care of yourself. Make sure you eat healthy meals, exercise, get plenty of rest, and find time to relax. Have more self-compassion, accept your limitations, and indulge in a few minutes of self-care. Sitting down with a cup of apple-cinnamon tea or hot cocoa might just do the trick!

Use humor—try to see the lighter side of life and don’t take yourself so seriously. The holidays are supposed to be joyous and happy.

If you are still stressed-out, remember that exercise is a real stress-buster. Bundle up the kids and go for an after-dinner walk through the neighborhood, taking in the holiday lights and displays.

For more information on reducing family holiday stress:

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at


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