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Coping with social stress over the holidays

Six stress-busting tips to put the fa-la-la back into festive events this December

The holidays bring people together. It’s a time for family festivities, decadent dinners and friendly catch-ups.

But coming together doesn’t always come easily. Juggling calendar commitments, navigating tricky social situations and coming up against ho-ho-hopelessly high expectations can leave you feeling overwhelmed instead of overjoyed.

“In December, there’s this expectation to be highly social and highly positive,” says Melissa Gray, a counsellor with SAIT’s Student Development and Counselling.

“But the holidays don’t exist in a vacuum. Between regular responsibilities and added social pressures this time of year, people are stretched really thin.”

So, is it possible to enjoy the social aspects of the season while maintaining merry mental health?

Here are Gray’s tips for making it through the hustle and bustle.

Don’t overcommit.

You may be hesitant to turn down a seasonal soiree or festive fundraiser, but it’s best to be upfront if you’re strapped for time or energy.

“Saying ‘no’ is far less hurtful than committing and ultimately having to bow out,” says Gray.

Set your intention.

Before an event, focus on one outcome you’d like to gain from attending. Perhaps it’s catching up with an extended family member or taking part in a favourite holiday tradition.  

Focus on what you can control.

It’s important to manage your expectations, even during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Whether playing host or guest, recognize you can’t please everyone — and that’s ok.

Set time boundaries.

Quality trumps quantity when it comes to spending time with loved ones. There’s no shame in setting limits on how long you’d like to socialize.

“Use the time you have to focus on meaningful interactions,” says Gray.

Make a game plan.

Even amidst the festive flair of a holiday get-together, arguments happen.

“Remember, this can be a stressful time,” says Gray. “People show that stress in different ways.”

If you’re anticipating a stressful social encounter, recognize what might happen, approach the situation with patience and empathy, and debrief after the fact with a person you trust.

Make time for yourself.

Grant yourself permission to swap FOMO (fear of missing out) for JOMO (joy of missing out). Carve out time for self-care or an interest you’ve put aside.

SAIT Student Development and Counselling will be closed from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, 2020. If you’re seeking support over the holidays, refer to free and confidential community resources.

Student success is at the core of SAIT’s values, and mental health and well-being is vital to that success. Through collaborative action and an inclusive spirit of community support, SAIT’s Student Mental Health Strategy will foster a climate for learning that empowers our students to thrive.

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