Getting Through the Holidays

Written by: Caroline Sebren, Senior student at USC

While the holidays can be a joyous time for many, they also come in bearing many unique stressors. Oftentimes, it is our family who know how to push our buttons the best. The expectations of the holidays means that tensions are high, and with tension comes anxiety, fatigue, and sadness.1 If you feel guilty for feeling upset when others around you are feeling happy, just know these feelings are valid, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are entitled to feel whatever feelings that you feel.

The American Psychological Association offers some tips about how to make sure the holidays are less stressful on yourself. You can start by having realistic expectations.2 You cannot expect everything to be perfect, or you will start to feel anxious when little things go wrong. 

Don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself if you feel overwhelmed. You can’t have a good time with your family if you’re not taking care of yourself.2 If you’re really having a hard time, be honest with your loved ones, they can offer emotional support. 

Finances and Budget With COVID

If your holiday traditions involve cooking extravagant traditional meals, gift giving, family trips, or other things that require funds, setting a holiday budget will help you allocate your spending.3

Find a goal that is comfortable for you and stick to it every month. You can cut costs in small places to make big differences. Instead of shipping a large box full of wrapped gifts, consider sending a gift directly to their home from online.3

If you do not have the budget to get everyone a gift, that’s okay. The holidays aren’t about gifts, it is about showing our love and appreciation for our loved ones. The people who love you will understand if you cannot afford to get them a gift. Show you care by sending a card, spending time with them, or even making something homemade, like baked goods.3

You could also team up with several loved ones on joint gifts or buy gently used items. There’s nothing wrong with secondhand books, video games, or interesting thrift store finds. Making a charitable donation in someone’s name can be a kind and generous gesture.3

Even if we cannot gather for our holidays, we can still show love for our friends and family. If you are feeling a loss at not being able to have the holiday you want or are used to, know you are not alone in that. It is okay to grieve for an intangible thing. Traditions and routines give us structure, and something we can expect. Talk about this loss with others in your family who share this tradition and see if you can find a different way to celebrate. 


Don’t feel pressured to get everything on your child’s holiday wish list. What really matters with children is spending time together and showing them you care. If your traditions for the holidays are going to change, or if financial patterns are going to change things, have an honest conversation with your children about it.4

Children as young as six or seven have a concept of money and money habits.4 You can tell your child about the concept of a budget, and what it means to spend responsibly. However, you shouldn’t apologize for the finances of the family.4 It adds unnecessary emotion, and can instill anxious feelings about money, and even guilt. 

You can take this opportunity to guide children toward learning about what holidays are really for. Doing good things for others and loving one another. Volunteer with your child, take them to do good for others, and you can teach them how helping others is its own reward.4 You can also make holiday crafts and projects as gifts can be a fun, budget friendly activity to bring you closer together and still give.4

Seasonal Affective Disorder

There is a difference between having some feelings of depression and anxiety during the holidays and Seasonal Affective Disorder.5 SAD is a type of depression that only lasts for a short period of time, usually during the winter, and then goes away.5 If you have had persistent and severe feelings of depression over the course of several winters, you may have SAD.

Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, craving/eating more sugars and starches, difficulty sleeping, sleeping excessively, persistently sad feelings, feelings of hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide.5 These symptoms may be mild or severe. 

You can combat SAD much like you do depression. Stay active, eat healthy, spend time with your loved ones, and speak to a mental health professional. You should also get as much sunlight as you can.5 Experiencing daylight helps lessen the symptoms of SAD, because the lack of daylight is a contributing factor. If you’re having intense cravings for sugar, try eating fruits as a substitute.5

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, you should speak with a mental health professional. Don’t hesitate, these feelings can be treated more readily if they are addressed promptly.1 Remember that it is okay to feel poorly around these times. Holidays are not happy times for everyone. But remember that you do deserve moments of peace and joy. 

Live well!

References 1 2 3 4

This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a senior at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is a current Psychology major with a minor in Counselor Education and hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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