Managing Stress During the Holidays


For many of us, the holidays are a time of expectations. Our social media accounts are filled with perfectly crafted images of decorated trees and colour coordinated wrapped presents, hot chocolate charcuterie boards with five different kinds of homemade baking. Do we have time for all of these things? Most likely not, but our imagination creates our ideal way we want everything to be. We want to create beautiful memories for our children, and with our family and friends. We can set high expectations, pushing ourselves to create these amazing moments, and when they don’t happen the way we want them to, we are left disappointed. When reality doesn’t match our expectations, we end up missing out on being in the moment and the positives that can still be felt there. We can change this pattern. Instead of fighting against reality, we can practice what Marsha Linehan termed Radical Acceptance.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is a way to help us lower the amount of stress we are feeling. By recognizing the realities of life and what is out of our control, we prevent ourselves from getting stuck in disappointment, unhappiness, and distress. This doesn’t mean we agree with the facts and circumstances we are in, but that we choose to see what our reality is and use our energy to effectively cope with our actual situation.

Should we stop daydreaming and visualizing a wonderful holiday? NO, but what we can do is be realistic with what we do and accept when those dreams don’t quite fit. If you don’t want to spend hours watching YouTube for how to make a perfect bow or are not into DIYs of wreaths, don’t make that the expectation you set for yourself.

Visualize holidays being how you and your family value them. Maybe this is getting outside walking or sledding or maybe it is watching the holiday classic movies together. Likewise, when you have visualized those activities turning out differently, stop fighting reality and go with it. The gingerbread house is lopsided, the potatoes end up being lumpy, the boardgame ends in a fight.


Here is what you can do accept the moments:

  1. Breathe – if you are anxious, likely your body is tense. Take some calming breaths and let go of tension in your shoulders, neck, and hands. Accept emotions – notice if you are angry or sad or disappointed. Name it and give it the moment, accepting it. Emotions have a very
  2. short chemical life in our brains unless we chose to maintain it, they will dissolve.
  3. Pretend like you do – if you are still struggling, visualize how you would like yourself to be and enact that. Changing behaviors and actions with the “pretend acceptance” may help change our thoughts
  4. Affirmations – having statements we can say to ourselves or on a post-it note somewhere remind us how we can accept the present moment:
    • I release the need for control and embrace the flow of life.
    • I choose to let go of judgement.
    • I accept myself and others unconditionally.
    • I surrender to what I cannot change and focus on what is in my control.

If you feel like you could still use support, Kells Counselling psychologists are well versed in Marsha Linehan’s Dialectic Behavior Therapy and can help you increase your distress tolerance with radical acceptance.

Always seek supports if you’re suffering. Call 211 or the Distress line at 780-482-4357 (HELP) if you need immediate support.