Young woman sad on Christmas

7 Tips to Manage Difficult Feelings During the Holidays

The holidays are difficult for a lot of people. It could be that your holidays involve family conflicts, financial pressures, or are associated with bad memories.

And even if you generally enjoy the holidays, they can be stressful because you’re extra busy, not following your normal routine, and feel tired and overwhelmed.

Most of us experience some difficult feelings during the holidays – and we need to find healthy ways to cope with them.  

How to Manage difficult feelings during the holidays

7 Tips to Manage Difficult Feelings During the Holidays

1. Name your feelings.

To manage our emotions, we first need to acknowledge them. We need to know what we’re feeling so we can figure out how best to deal with them. What kinds of “difficult” emotions are you experiencing now or are likely to experience during the holidays? They might include:

  • Sadness or disappointment
  • Anger or frustration
  • Irritability
  • Stress or tension
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue

Labeling your feelings with a descriptive word such as sadness or loneliness brings more awareness to your feelings and can actually decrease their intensity.  

2. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking.

While you might not be feeling the way you want, the holidays don’t have to be all bad. Without realizing it, many of us engage in all-or-nothing thinking – only noticing the problems and difficult aspects of an experience, while ignoring the positives (or not making an effort to enjoy something that could be fun or inspiring).

To avoid all-or-nothing thinking, intentionally look for little things to enjoy, and engage in activities that are likely to be pleasurable. This allows you to experience the positives and the negatives of a situation (I’m sad that I can’t see my extended family and I’m enjoying putting up new holiday decorations this year.)

A gratitude practice is another popular and effective way to train your brain to notice and appreciate what you have.  

3. Don’t self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, sugar, or other unhealthy activities.

It’s only natural that when you’re feeling bad, you want to change or numb your feelings. However, we all know that although these substances temporarily change how we feel, they don’t work in the long term (and they can potentially cause more problems).

So, it’s important to monitor how much you’re consuming and not rely on alcohol, drugs, sugar, or other unhealthy activities to help you feel better.  

4. Check-in with yourself.

Try to slow down and take time to intentionally notice your feelings. Be curious about what they might be trying to tell you. If you normally ignore or “stuff” your feelings, it can be helpful to schedule short check-ins with yourself when you ask yourself: “How am I feeling right now? What do I need?”.  

5. Consider spending less time on social media or the internet.

Many of us turn to social media, online games, or the internet to connect with others and entertain ourselves. This sounds good in theory, but in reality, it may be making you feel worse.

Often, spending time online leads to comparing yourself to others and feeling like you’re missing out, inferior, or you don’t belong. So, pay attention to how you feel when you’re online and if it’s making you feel worse, set a time limit and stick to it.  

6. Find healthy outlets for your feelings.

Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. Instead, look for healthy ways to express them. You can express your feelings verbally (in therapy, talking to a friend, writing in a journal), physically (exercise, massage, or other physical releases), creatively (making music or art), or through spiritual practices (meditation, prayer).

Different feelings and different circumstances, as well as your personality, will call for different forms of expression. Sometimes, it helps to experiment until you find what feels right or what’s helpful for you.  

You may also find this article helpful: How to Talk about Your Feelings.

7. Be proactive.

If you anticipate that particular days or aspects of the holidays will be difficult, make a plan now. Don’t wait until it’s upon you to figure out how you’ll get through it.

For example, if you’re about being alone on Thanksgiving, sign-up to volunteer with an organization serving those who are less fortunate, plan a long hike, or schedule a video call with a friend.

If you’re grieving and the entire season feels daunting, you might want to join a support group or connect with a religious or spiritual community.  

More ways to take care of yourself during difficult times

  • Set boundaries. Say no to things that you don’t want to do, can’t afford, or that conflict with your values or goals.
  • Find one thing to do that you enjoy. Identify one enjoyable activity (it doesn’t have to be holiday-related), decide when you’ll do it and put it on your calendar.
  • Give to others. Helping others can boost happiness for the giver and receiver. Think about what you’re good at and what you have to offer and identify a way to give back such as writing holiday cards to servicemen and women, donating toys or food, shoveling your neighbor’s driveway or baking them a treat.
  • Get help if you’re depressed. If you think you might be depressed (have a persistently sad or irritable mood, experience fatigue or low energy, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, suicidal thoughts, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating), please seek help from your physician or a mental health professional.
  • Increase your self-care. When you’re stressed or not feeling well, you need to take extra good care of yourself. So, make self-care a priority. This includes taking care of your physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs.

Using some of these strategies, will help you manage difficult feelings during the holiday season. The holidays may still be hard, but small changes can bring a little bit more acceptance or happiness – and that’s a good start!

Be kind to yourself and I hope you can find some moments of joy this holiday season.  

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©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of

Handling the Holidays Toolkit!

coping with difficult family during the holidays

If you have a difficult or toxic family member, you know that the holidays are the most challenging time of year. So, I created some digital resources to help you get through the holidays with less stress and more joy! Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How to set realistic expectations and avoid being disappointed and resentful
  • How to stop trying to change others and focus on changing yourself
  • How to recognize your triggers and avoid over or underreacting
  • How to recognize early signs of stress, so you can head it off early
  • How to say “no” without feeling guilty

For more info, click HERE.

Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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