Managing Stress Around the Holidays

The carols. The lights. The department store advertising. The television specials. During this time of year, messages of festivities, food, and family are everywhere. But there’s still plenty to do on the farm – the chores won’t do themselves.

Given the reality of financial pressures, family misunderstandings, too little time, and much of everything else, what is supposed to be a joyous and relaxing time of the year can be very difficult. Sometimes, we can find ourselves feeling lonely, exhausted, stressed out, and unfulfilled. There are ways to get more of what we want from the holiday season. While we may not be able to create pure magic and wonder, the holidays can still bring peace – and maybe even joy.

Explore Your Values and Beliefs

In exchanging the stresses of the holiday season for more of what you want, one of the first things to consider is your core values and beliefs regarding finances, spirituality, relationships, physical and mental health, and the farm/business. What we value and how we express those values can change over time and with the circumstances of our lives. 

Set external pressures aside, and think about the activities that leave you feeling most fulfilled. Is it spending time with family? Attending worship? Is community involvement important to you? Keep the traditions that fit with your values and beliefs by letting go of the ones that no longer make sense. Create new traditions that reflect what is truly important to you and your family.


When deciding how to celebrate the season, you may find yourself confronting the expectations others have for you and those you have for yourself. Realistic expectations can motivate us to achieve the things that we believe in. When expectations are unrealistically high, we can experience shame, exhaustion, and anxiety from never quite measuring up. Let’s face it, the holidays will come (and go), whether you’re ready or not. 

Take a moment to consider what you get from your efforts to live up to high expectations (self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, respect) and what that effort costs. Do the costs or benefits align with the values and beliefs you’ve decided are important to you?


Even when ‘family’ and ‘friendship’ are core values, the holiday season can bring unresolved conflicts to the forefront. This is another area where you might decide to think about the costs of holding on to past hurts and the potential benefits of deciding to forgive or “let go” of them. Meanwhile, if you have accepted an invitation to celebrate the season with a family member or friend with whom you have experienced a strained relationship, consider the following tips for making an early and discreet, exit:  

  • Park strategically, so your vehicle isn’t blocked by anyone else’s.
  • If the gathering is a potluck, bring your contribution in a disposable container.
  • Agree with your family/companions on a secret signal to indicate “we’re leaving.”

The holidays can also be a reminder that the people we care about aren’t with us in the same way: losses – whether through death, a move, or estrangement – can feel especially poignant. Give yourself time and space to sit with grief. Plan a ritual to honor your loved one. Do some advanced planning for situations that you anticipate may be difficult. And don’t be afraid to say no. 

Too Much/Too Little

With an uncertain economy and tax time just around the corner, many of us are feeling the need to tighten our belts. Here again, your core values can help you to decide in advance where you are prepared to spend – and will guide you in creating a reasonable and manageable budget. The exchanging of gifts is an area where you might cut back on spending and decide instead to give a gift of yourself. Sharing your unique talents with the people you care about is always acceptable! Remember, they don’t need your presents, they would rather have your presence.  


Finally, take some time to take care of yourself. Maintain your good fitness habits and get outside for some exercise – solo or with your family and friends. Find a balance between spending time with others and allowing time for yourself that works for you – and encourage others to do the same. It’s a bold step to resist the pressure to do things because of expectations or because it’s the way things have always been done. When we decide, instead, to prioritize the activities and traditions that align with our values and beliefs, we increase our chances of finding joy and peace, not only during the holiday season but throughout the year.

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Libby Ells, MSW, RSWLibbyFace-scaled

Libby was fortunate to grow up on the family farm in Southwestern Ontario, before moving away for many years and finally returning to her rural roots in 2011. 

Throughout her career, Libby has been motivated to facilitate hope and change by listening with curiosity to help others remember their unique knowledge, skills, and abilities. In addition to her work with individuals, couples, families, and groups, she has mentored students and provided clinical supervision to fellow practitioners in the mental health field. She works hard to be respectful and bring humor to her encounters.  

Posted by Libby Ells