Managing Christmas and Holiday Stress


Managing Christmas and Holiday Stress

Michael Misja, Ph.D.


A 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of Americans said their stress increased during the holiday season. Lack of time, money, and the pressure to buy presents and attend family gatherings were the main stressors. The good news was that 54% of those surveyed thought stress levels were about the same as always.  The better news was that most people experienced love and happiness during the Christmas season.

But for those who are dreading the holidays, there is hope.  One bit of advice should help clarify all the issues. The advice is:




1. Make sure you don’t forget anyone.

It is important that you buy a present for every relative and friend. You don’t want anyone to feel left out and think you don’t care about them.


2.  Don’t be a cheapskate.

Spend every dime you have and then some.  You have the whole next year to pay for things.  You don’t want to suffer the burden of guilt and shame because you under spent!!


3.  Your house must be perfectly clean and exceptionally well decorated.

Don’t forget to scrub the ceilings and walls.  Put on your drill instructor’s uniform and whip the family into shape.  It’s ok if they feel pressure and irritation.  Who cares if their Christmas is ruined because you never let them relax?  Fresh pines wreathes should be replaced every six days to maintain an authentic outdoor smell.


4.  Attend every family, church, and social event.

Avoid the horror of people gossiping about you because didn’t care enough to attend their gathering.  And what would the baby Jesus think if you missed the Christmas concert (at school, church, niece’s concert, nephew’s concert)?  This could be your great-Aunt’s last Christmas, you know.


5.  Focus on the family member who offends you most.

The main thing is for you to worry about having to interact with people who have hurt you.  Why bother thinking about seeing friends and family who love you and want to celebrate with you?  It’s far more interesting to have panic attacks, lose sleep, and obsess over all the ways you have been wounded by those who don’t care.


6.  Keep your expectations as high as possible.

It’s Christmas after all.  This is the year everyone will get along.  This is the year you will finally be recognized and loved like never before.  Everyone will talk with admiration about how exquisite your presents are.  The family gathering will be interrupted by a relative who gives a speech, praising you for your sacrificial love and selfless dedication to…whatever.  Oh yes, and they will rave about how you always keep your bathroom so clean people could eat off the floor.  And this year your spouse will give you the PERFECT gift.

Don’t worry about the depression that will occur when your expectations aren’t met.


7.  Keep the main thing, the main thing.

Think through what really matters to you.  What is essential?  Is it presents, a clean house, or meeting other people’s expectations?  Or is it something else, something that speaks to your heart and soul?


You are loved.  That is why Christ came.  To give you the depth and riches of his unconditional love.  That is why you are free to love Him. And love your neighbor.  And with your loved ones, celebrate the Advent of the lover and savior of your soul.


  1. Lisa Leinweber says:

    This is exactly why my husband and I do not buy each other gifts. We usually just get a present for each of our nieces and nephew. We are spending Christmas going to church to spend time with God and thanking him for giving us his son, Jesus Christ our lord. We will visit family and spend time with them. We have also learned, that the older you get, the gifts that are the most important are those that money can not buy.

  2. Great post, Mike! Sometimes sarcasm does better than preaching. The whole family enjoyed! I’m going to make sure to answer every email, blog and message sent my way this Christmas!

  3. Margaret Fuduric (Lynch) says:

    Christmas is so much more than anything mentioned above. It is a wonderful time of the year to be thankful for every little blessing God has bestowed upon you. It is a time to sit back and reflect on how the past year has gone, all the good and the bad. Know that whatever your journey has been it is in accordance with God’s plan. Last but not least, it is a time to thank Our Father for giving us His son, to help guide us through this life. When you feel yourself starting to get caught up in all the commercial part of Christmas, take a moment, take a deep breath, relax and thank God for always being there for you.

  4. With the high stress levels of many families between Novemeber and December each year it is so easy for people to forget that the holidays are supposed to strengthen families and individuals, not break us down. I hope that all those who want to see the brighter side of the holiday season are able to find it and if they don’t know where to start, don’t hold back asking. that’s what we’re here for. And just when you think you’re all alone with your less than perfect family get-togethers Hollywood always has a family worse than yours. Humor is always a wonderful way to lighten the load and not take ourselves too serious. Many many people follow numbers 1 through 6 until one day it clicks and they will focus on number 7. you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel when you do and how much more meaningful this time of year will become.

  5. Laura Walts says:

    As my kids were growing up, I found myself trying to make Christmas all it could be for them. Not just the gifts, but the whole experience, including knowing the real reason for the season. I wanted them to know that the celebration of Christ was about love and giving, and we would have various projects around the house as we worked on homemade gifts for some of their relatives. We collected cans for the needy while caroling, put together shoeboxes for needy kids, served at the food pantry. Each would make a gingerbread house, though it always seemed I forgot to get that special something that would have made it perfect. From probably age two on, they were in the kitchen with me making cookies as we listened to Christmas music, (I smile when I think of the mess, with flour everywhere). I probably didn’t need to make so many different kinds, including several kinds of cut-outs…but I wanted to make it perfect for them. And then there was the birthday cake for Jesus that I forgot about until last minute every year. Though I realized along the way that I probably was putting too much stress on myself to make things “perfect”, I am so thankful for the the time I was able to spend with my kids in making Christmas “magical” as well as teaching them to think of others rather than themselves.

    I must say that it is still a struggle to not get too caught up in the expectations of the season, some from others and often expectations of my own. Now that my boys are young men, I want to purposefully re-focus on the real meaning of Christmas…what it means to them now. This will mean not following what the extended family does but choosing to start new traditions during this new season of our family. Though there are no longer fights over who puts the angel on top of the tree, we can share these memories, rejoice in what God has done and is doing in their lives, and now make new ones to include my oldest son’s soon to be bride.

    Hopefully, my sons remember how much their parents love them, and more importantly how much the savior of their souls love them–that the baby Jesus left his heavenly throne to be born in a humble manger so he could ultimately die for us while we were still sinners; so that we might be made right with God. Despite the disappointments, and our inability to make Christmas “perfect”, what joy to be truly known by Him and unconditionally loved! What freedom!

  6. Felicia Oana says:

    Really enjoyed your sarcasm in this article. One can never live up to everybody’s expectations.
    That being said, thruth is, I used to live by the above rules you described. I terorized my children and family with “things” that had to be acomplished so we could have the perfect Christmas. It always ended up to be a great disaster.
    Until something, somewhere malfunctioned. Then, in great pain I recognized the real value of CHRISTmas. And slowly, but surely the Son had set me free! His love encompesed me! Then I was able to love my family and my neighbour! What a blessing Christ Jesus is!
    Thank you for a humoristic way of looking at those “obligations” we set ourselves up to. Thank you for helping me look at the real value of Christmas.

  7. mike’s article is so relieving because it brings laughter and exposes the stress we put ourselves under and/or give in to other ‘controlling’ family members, instead of making the choices we WANT to make in how we spend our Christmas and New Years. So we feed into the controlling family dynamics, instead of charting a different course. A course of ‘thoughtful loving’ action. Therefore, much of Christmas and making more impressionable memories can get lost because of undealt-with issues within the family, so folks choose to give in to the ‘family-line’ pressures, versus work throughout the year to heal wounds and confess sins that either reflect present day hurts or the past. So often we find at NCFF, that families truly need help to navigate change in their relationships with a family member. Often we find that someone outside the family is able to be hear and help facilitate movement even with very difficult family members. (Of course, we might be one of those difficult family members too.)

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