ASK DENISE: Tips to avoid holiday stress

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Denise Harrison

Editor’s note: Writer’s answers do not reflect those of the Mitchell News-Journal and are not meant to replace medical or mental health care.


Dear Readers: Over the past week or so, I have had several people talk to me about how they suffer from sadness this time of year. This is more common than many realize, and can make this time of year a challenge. I addressed this a few years ago in the article below:

The holidays are upon us. Cold crisp air, Christmas music playing in all the stores, fragrant cookie aromas coming from kitchens and anticipation of the joy of gift-giving stirs our very souls. This is a time for families and loved ones to share in the love and bonding of this sacred holiday, and to revisit beloved traditions, or perhaps to start some new ones. As stated in an old holiday song, this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But, not for everyone.

This time of year can be brutally painful for some individuals. Those who do not have family around to share in the festivities, or perhaps have recently lost a loved one, may feel more alone than ever this time of year. 

Financial worries can add to the stress of the holidays and can create depression and anxiety for those who are worried about how to keep pace with the materialism prevalent during this season. Also, while we all may glamorize that image of the ideal family gathering on Christmas Day, not everyone has the Norman Rockwell, picture-perfect family. Having to spend extended periods with dysfunctional family members can score very high on the stress index.

But this doesn’t mean some of us are destined to be miserable until January. Some tactics can be utilized to keep you sane and happy during the holidays. For those who feel blue this time of year because of being alone, whether it is because of the passing of a loved one, or simply because you live far away from your family, it becomes easy to lose oneself in self-pity and feelings of injustice at your situation. Some ways to avoid those negative feelings this year are: trying to start some new traditions of your own, offer to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or other charity to spread good cheer that way, or perhaps seek out friends – old and new – and spend time with them. If the source of your problem is the financial strains of spending beyond your limits, then perhaps it is time to slow down and re-evaluate your gift-giving habits.  Giving from your heart (handmade items, personal favors such as mowing someone’s yard or taking them shopping) may be less stressful for you, and is keeping in concordance with the true meaning of the holidays. 

If spending time with your family is a source of stress, the first plan of defense is determining what it is about these gatherings that is so stress-provoking for you. Is it because being with them brings back unpleasant memories from past events? Then, maybe, it is time to try to let go of the past and have some fresh beginnings. Perhaps you just have some “toxic relatives” who consistently make you feel bad about yourself. The thing to remember about these individuals is their apparent opinion about you is just that, their opinion, and not fact. Make a conscious effort to not absorb their negativity and to recognize who you are. If possible, try not to be alone with these people for an extended period.  

For those who truly experience the holidays as the joyous occasion it was meant to be, you can help those struggling to enjoy them. 

Try to be sensitive to the “vibes” that others are sending. For example, if you notice a friend, neighbor or coworker doesn’t appear to be very happy about the holidays, try and include them in some of your plans and activities. No one wants to be alone this time of year. 

Doing for others and reaching out to those less fortunate symbolizes the true spirit of Christmas. Let’s try to remember that while we share the love and warmth to our fellow humans.  


Denise Harrison is a Licensed Counselor in Spruce Pine. Send questions to or call and leave a message at 828-467-0037. Submissions are anonymous.