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Surviving the Christmas season without losing your mind

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December 24, 2019 - 12:00 PM

The Christmas holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but the pressure of social commitments, shopping for presents and the expectations about creating the perfect Christmas for family and friends can take their toll.

Three mental health experts offer their advice on surviving the holidays. Reducing unrealistic expectations was the theme, which ran through all the interviews.


Susan Holtzman, an associate professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan, says a big source of stress over the holiday season is having unrealistic goals for what you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

“Imagine everybody in your life that you care about has the same birthday and you have to celebrate their birthdays and make them all feel special on that one day,” she says. “When you are trying to accomplish too much, attending or hosting social events, getting your shopping done, that can be overwhelming.”

Holtzman says you can tackle the problem by making a list of all the things you’ve committed to, and all the things you need to get done for the rest of December.

“Once you’ve got your list try to schedule it into your day planner or the calendar on your phone and if it’s not fitting then you’re probably not being realistic with holiday goals,” she says. “That’s when you need to take a step back and start looking at things more realistically.”

The director of student health at UBC Okanagan Roger Wilson says the advice he gives to manage stress over the holiday season is simple: Be clear about your expectations.

“Be realistic about what you can achieve and accomplish and what the holidays are going be,” he says. “I recommend planning a routine with an emphasis on balance. Exercise regularly, get lots of sleep, eat healthy, don’t overdue it on the alcohol and the salty foods, and make time for yourself.”

Wilson says it’s all about trying to find that balance, which he admits is a challenge over the holidays with food and drink at every turn.


The holidays mean a lot of different thing to different people, but for most it’s about spending quality time with family and friends. It doesn’t have to be perfect like a Norman Rockwell post card.

Again Holtzman says it’s important to be realistic about you’re expectations.

“If that’s not the way your family typically operates, chances are its not the way it will operate during the holidays,” she says. “Especially when everyone is exhausted and stressed.”

Penticton’s Wendy Binggeli has been a life coach for over 30 years and specializes in the law of attraction and conscious, deliberate co-creation.

Binggeli has a suggestion to help manage the stress created by Christmas with members of your family.

“I say to myself, this is what I’m thinking, this is what I’m imaging and this is what I’m feeling. Then I ask myself, what would I like to be thinking, what would I like to be imagining, what would I like to be feeling?”

Wilson agrees family conflicts can come into play over the holidays.

“They don’t go away at Christmas,” he says. “My advice is to treat those with grace and gratitude. Realize we’re all coming from different places.”


When it comes to gift giving at Christmas time, Holtzman feels people need to give themselves a break.

“I don’t know many people who feel what is important to them over the holidays is getting the perfect gift,” she says. “Yet somehow we impose that on them even though it’s quite positively not what they are looking for.”

Holtzman suggests you focus on meaningful gifts; small thoughtful things which have meaning to you and the person receiving the gift. It could be a memory you share, something which reflects your relationship or something you know is important too them.

Christmas is often about focusing on the presents,” she says. “I like to suggest that people think about being present, rather than buying presents.”


Moderation is the key when it comes to the consumption of alcohol over the holidays.

Wilson says the downside to too much drinking is saying something you don’t mean to say. He says you don’t want to show your kids the only way to get through the holidays is by having a stiff drink.

“I think a little bit of booze is ok. It loosens up the social conversation and the social relationships,” he says. “Its really important not to get caught up in that ‘I really need alcohol to celebrate.’”

And finally, Holtzman recommends appreciating the little things about the holidays you love.

“It could be the smells, the lights on all the houses, and the energy and excitement of young children.”

Focusing on the things not around the rest of the year helps when you are dealing the stress generated by the Christmas holidays, she says.

— Originally published Dec. 24, 2016

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