Tips to Help Reduce Holiday Stress This Year

In a normal year, holiday stress can be a lot. But adding the pandemic and being away from family… and it can become very overwhelming.

Erica Cardenas, host of YurView’s Your Health, show, interviews Dr. Wendy Watson, Medical Director for the Outpatient Clinic at Valleywise Behavioral Health Center, about the best ways to deal with stress at the holidays.

Watch the video above for tips to alleviate stress, or read the full interview transcription we’ve provided below. (lightly edited for clarity)

holiday stress busters

What to do if you can’t be with family

Erica Cardenas, host of Your Health (00:08) – Here to give us some expert advice on how to deal with the stress is Dr. Wendy Watson. Doctor, thanks so much for being with us.

Dr. Wendy Watson, Valleywise Behavorial Health Center (00:15) – Thanks so much for having me.

EC (00:17) – Now, holiday stress is very real for many people. Are you seeing with your patients that it’s more stressful during the pandemic?

WW (00:26) – Absolutely, Erica. We have this baseline holiday stress that we always have every year. And then it’s combined with this really kind of whole-year-long pandemic stress. And the two combination is really just kind of making people really kind of feel uncertain about what to do and not even know what exactly to do for the holidays. So I definitely feel like people are more stressed than ever right now.

EC (00:50) – Now, let’s talk about people who can’t be with their family this year. What advice do you have for them?

WW (00:57) – My advice I have for them is actually to plan and really reach out to people, really plan that time together. Because while we can’t really be physically together, we can still do things to make sure that we’re actually together on that special day. Whether it be Hanukkah or Christmas, we really can just say… look at grandma’s time, grandma’s Eastern time. Look at our time, and we’re Western time. And make sure we plan a special moment together that can really make all the difference in the world, not just for ourselves, but the people we love.

How to help your kids cope

EC (01:30) – Absolutely. Now let’s talk about our kids. How can we help our kids cope with the ifferences this holiday season?

WW (01:37) – Well, since I work with families and kids, this is something that comes up all the time right now in my practice. I think the best thing to do is just really have that open communication. Talk to your kids right now about how it’s totally normal to be sad that you’re not going to be able to see grandma this year or your cousins, that you’re disappointed that you can’t, you know, have the Christmas that you had in the past. That’s okay. And even, it’s okay to share at this point that mom is upset or dad’s upset and disappointed that we can’t do that this year.

(02:14) – But it doesn’t mean that we have to completely write off Christmas or the holidays, that we can actually do something special and create something special together.

(02:23) – And so, the other advice I give is to sit down, plan things out with your kids, keep your kids part of it. You don’t have to do any big dinners, no big huge celebrations. It could be something as simple as getting takeout and having holiday movie marathon with the kids. And there’s been some lovely things that kids have come up with, like making ornaments for the year, really kind of start some new traditions, even for the future holidays.

holiday stress busters

Signs of stress to acknowledge

EC (02:47) – Now, many people may not even realize that they’re stressed. What does that look like so people can recognize it?

WW (02:55) – You know, when I think of stress, I like to think of it really in two components – our minds and our bodies. They go hand in hand. So for the mind, I think of maybe having trouble with sleep. Your mind is racing. You can’t go to bed. Or you’re having trouble focusing. Or, you might have some mood changes and feel a little more irritable.

(03:15) – And for the body, we hold stress really in the middle of our bodies that come out as headaches, and come out as maybe trouble swallowing or pain. Just clenching our jaws, a lot of pain in our neck and all that muscle tension, pressure in our chest, stomach issues, things like that.

(03:31) – So, really looking out for those things within yourself is really important. To say, you know, that I think I’m getting stressed and I need to do something about it.

holiday stress busters

Stress busters for your mind and body

EC (03:38) – Now, Doctor, let’s talk about stress busters. Any tips or advice on stress busters to help us get through the holiday season?

WW (03:46) – I like people to go back to that mind and that body. So, what can you do for your mind? One of the best things you can do for your mind is actually increasing your social interactions with others that might not be in person, but by Zoom or by telephone, reaching out to people. You can do other things like meditate.

(04:03) – Some things you can do for your body. Doing things like yoga. Exercise is huge for our body. It’s a really important way to get rid of stress. Eating healthy. And I’m not telling anybody to go on a strict diet right now. That’s okay. No, we’re just doing things that are really going to nourish us, nourish our souls.

holiday stress busters

Advice on how to approach the New Year

EC (04:19) – Now, of course, doctor, we’re heading into the new year. So psychologically speaking, it can be a lot to go into 2021 with still so much uncertainty. Any advice on how we should approach the new year?

WW (04:33) – This was a year we’ll never forget. And this holiday is a season we’ll never forget. So I really think people shouldn’t just ignore the season. Do something about it. Do something special. And I also really encourage people… and I’m doing this myself… looking back at the year without this all this negative kind of stuff coming out, but looking back at some positive things, some really wonderful things that have happened in our lives.

(05:00) – Looking back at my year, I’m so grateful my mother-in-law went into remission. She’s wonderful, sweet. I got to see my niece’s first steps. There’s some beautiful things that happened. And I really encourage people to write them down and read them to yourself. And to really, kind of create your own narrative or your own story for this year. It’s not all negative. There’s some really wonderful things that happen. And there’s some really big hope for the future.

EC (05:28) – Absolutely. Such great advice. Thank you so much, Dr. Watson, for being with us. For more resources, head over to the website.