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Ways to Manage Stress Over the Holidays (That Don’t Involve Drinking) 101

For many people, the holidays are a time for celebration and gathering of loved ones. Whether you are hosting or visiting your family or friends for the holidays, there are always a few essential items included for the celebration, such as food, presents, and a common one: alcohol. If you are opening a bottle of wine or bringing a six-pack of beer, there are a few things to keep in mind while drinking alcohol this holiday season.

With the holidays often come feelings of joy, gratitude, and elation. But, another less commonly talked about reality of the holidays is feelings of sadness and loneliness that are often present. In addition, seeing family can be a source of stress for many people. Anticipating uncomfortable conversations, such as “Are you dating anyone?”, “Who did you vote for in the election?” or simply seeing family whose company you may not necessarily enjoy.

Many people intentionally bring alcohol to make these uncomfortable interactions more bearable. Regardless of whether you are drinking to celebrate or cope with the holidays, alcohol consumption has a direct effect on one’s mood. When not drinking alcohol responsibly, our bodies and minds feel the consequences, such as physical illness, impaired judgment, and heightened emotions, especially negative ones.

People who have a few drinks within a short time tend to experience an intensification of any already present negative emotions, such as amplified anxiety, depression, or anger. Research indicates that while most people drink to relieve stress and negative emotions, it often ends up adversely affecting them by increasing stress and anxiety. Alcohol can also lead us to say things we will later regret or prevent us from relating well to other people. It can also decrease our enjoyment of holiday meals by temporarily altering and dampening our taste buds.

While having a glass of wine or a beer with dinner during the holidays is common, it is important to know your limits for both your physical and mental health. Setting boundaries is a great way to enjoy alcohol over the holidays, but keep it within healthy limits.

If you find yourself drinking more than you would like to cope with the stressors and negative feelings associated with the holidays, here are some techniques based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) you can try. You can practice these techniques discretely at any holiday gathering or by stepping outside or into another room for privacy.

  • Practice deep breathing: taking a few deep breaths can help increase the level of oxygen reaching your brain, further stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and prompting your body to calm down and relax.
  • Do a body scan: when we feel anxious, stressed, or angry, we often store that tension in our bodies. Take a moment to bring awareness to the different parts of your body, such as your neck, shoulders, and hands, and ensure you are not clenching your fists or constricting your shoulders. Release the tightness, take a breath, and let your body relax.
  • Journal: while pulling out a notepad or journal at a holiday gathering is often not feasible, a simple way to get your sad, anxious, or angry thoughts and feelings out of your mind is to jot them down on a notes app on your phone.

Hopefully, these tips come in handy during stress-inducing scenarios this holiday season and, if effective, can become staple go-to coping skills to help with stress and emotion regulation in your everyday life.


About the Author: Kelly Flood graduated from New York University with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and is a practicing therapist in New York and New Jersey. She is passionate about working with individuals of all ages and backgrounds to navigate and better their mental health, specializing in the treatment of anxiety and depression for young adults. For more information about Kelly and the work she is doing, please visit https://www.feelinggoodcenter.com/therapists/kelly-flood/.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-santa-claus-costume-716658/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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