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Keeping Joyful – tips to overcome holiday stress

grief during the holidays

Holiday Season Tips

The holidays are not always full of joy and mistletoe. For some, it can be a reminder of loss, and the grief that accompanies it. For others, it can be stressful, as we encounter similar (and sometimes) dysfunctional patterns of interacting and communicating with our families. It can trigger old memories, emotions, and with the added pressure of a prescribed notion of joy, sugar spice & all things nice, it can be a recipe for a stressful occasion.


Mindfulness is a practice that has become increasingly popular in the Western world.  It can support us in many ways, and especially during the holiday season. Mindfulness is essentially a nonjudgmental, present moment awareness of our experiences. It invites us to look with curiosity, compassion, and nonjudgment on what is happening.  Without attributing labels of good or bad, without living in the past or future, rather just being in the present moment. It also encompasses a mindful recognition of our common humanity.  Inviting us to shift our perspective, by taking a step back from the situation. During the holiday season, especially when things become hectic, or we find ourselves in similar patterns of interacting with those around us, stepping back can be very helpful.

Here are a few holiday tips, each with a foundation of mindfulness, to help get you through the holiday season.

  1. Immerse into Flow

    Do something, even if only for 15 minutes, that might put you into flow.  Flow is the experience of being so immersed in an activity (something you enjoy) that you lose track of time, you are challenged but not to the point of feeling defeated.  It should also leave you feeling energized.

    When in ‘flow’, you are fully present in what you are doing. 
    Body: go for a walk/jog/yoga
    Mind: write/do something creative, read/listen to a book/podcast,
    Spirit: music, singing/prayers, meditations

  2. Conscious/Mindful Consumption

    Many times, holidays are an occasion of excess. We overeat, over sleep, and over indulge. While short-term, it can be wonderful, this can sometimes leave us feeling groggy, guilty, and frustrated with ourselves in the longer run.

    When eating, take smaller portions on your plate, and allow yourself to eat slowly, taking time to smell your food, taste the flavours, notice the texture, savour any taste. I sometimes like to pretend I’m at a wine tasting, noticing the different flavours, and how they change.
    Wait before serving another helping, to see if you are still hungry.
    Consider cooking some meat-free or plant-based dishes for health and compassion.
    Do not throw away leftovers, save them and enjoy them.  Or see if anyone will accept leftovers at a shelter near you.

  3. Practice Gratitude

    Over the holidays, we can intentionally allow ourselves, and even invite our children, families, and friends to reflect on those who don’t have as much as we do. This helps foster a new perspective within us. Practicing gratitude can remind us of the good in our lives, and shift our stressful days to ones that we start to cherish (for both the laughs and the tears that might take place).

    Set a timer to remind you, or pick a time each day (e.g. before bed), to PAUSE and REFLECT on what you’re thankful about.  Notice what happens in your body as you reflect on these experiences.
    If you’re feeling grief from a loss, try writing a letter (even a gratitude letter) to the person you are grieving.
    Start your morning with a 5-minute gratitude meditation (I use Insight Timer, which is a free app).


Note* As a therapist, I recognize that it can be overwhelming sometimes.

With all the suggestions and solutions people might share, I encourage all my clients to mindfully check-in with themselves.  Notice what happens in their bodies, and to listen to their own experiences.  Tailor these suggestions based on what resonates with them. As you go through your holiday season, I invite you to do the same. Take these suggestions as an all-you-can-eat buffet, where you might try some tips, and bypass some others. You might go for seconds, or even thirds, if you fancy.