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This time of year is full of emotions. From anticipation and excitement to anxiety and dread, the holidays can elicit different things for different people. Whether you’re looking forward to festivities and gatherings or trying to forestall the next few months, the end of each year often brings with it unique stressors.

Social obligations, financial constraints, and a sense of isolation are factors that many people face in a holiday season. While some of these stressors are unavoidable, the ability to effectively cope with multiple demands greatly mitigates the degree to which these stressors have an impact. 

Below are a few behavioral practices that offer a degree of agency in your experiences during a season where many things feel out of your control, including other’s expectations and the effects of the pandemic:

  • Pre-planning

  • Practices in self-care

  • Broadening one’s scope of acceptance


Pre-planning might include making a budget to give yourself a framework under which you can more safely operate while still expending necessary resources. This budget could be for money, time, or energy. If financial resources are limited, ensure you understand what you can comfortably spend so that you can participate in activities (perhaps joyfully!), but that you are not giving more than what you can afford. While money is a concrete way of thinking about expenditure, the same can be said for time and energy. When we create a schedule that considers everyone but our self and there’s little opportunity for our own replenishment, we risk emotional and mental depletion. Thus, pre-planning can also include how to allocate your attention such that a specific item or concern will not dominate your day, but that it is also not completely ignored. Setting aside time to concentrate on necessary tasks, or even worries, ensures that these items are given adequate energy but not more than they are due while juggling multiple demands. Additionally, pre-planning what to not do is equally important. Social media and other apps, for example, can create significant distraction during times of high stress. If time and mental or emotional resources are scarce, deleting apps or removing other things (to the extent possible) that detract from your wellbeing will allow you to create more space to focus on responsibilities and self-care practices.


Practicing self-care can be implemented in both small and more substantial ways. Some people think of taking a vacation or buying something expensive as the only way to practice self-care, but making space for one’s own nourishment can be implemented regularly when one feels empowered to:

  1. Say no

  2. Set boundaries

  3. Schedule time for yourself

When this self-care is implemented in small ways throughout the day, one often finds a sense of spaciousness to think more clearly and meet others from a more grounded place as opposed to quickly moving from one thing to the next and operating in a reactionary manner. I often encourage my patients to use visual reminders to help them pause before responding to a heated email or get up from their desk periodically to stretch and move. Some people set a timer to schedule in a brisk walk or an important phone call that requires preparation while others take refuge in a morning/evening routine, such as making a wholesome meal that they can enjoy without distraction. Keep in mind that it’s vital to to develop a practice that helps you center and energize yourself as opposed to being an additional drain on your mental and emotional reserves. Small and regular efforts in self-care add up to have a surprisingly noticeable effect.


Certainly, stress interferes with effective communication, particularly when everyone else is likely to be stressed, too. Because the pandemic has complicated gatherings and isolated many in physical, emotional, and psychological ways, being clear about your boundaries and communicating them in a straightforward fashion can help minimize conflict and confusion. It might not be an easy conversation, but sometimes the goal is not to agree but rather to be able to discuss a difficult topic with mutual understanding and respect. When we cannot meet another’s desires or expectations, sometimes accepting that we’re doing the best we can within our own limits is the most we have to offer. If we can also embrace that the other party has their own limitations and constraints – be them physical, financial, or otherwise - the burden of meeting certain or previously standard expectations might be relaxed as everyone continues to adjust to the evolving times. Ultimately this is what we are left with – the dynamic of continual change amidst constants that arise year after year, including holiday stressors.

So take a deep breath and a moment to reflect on how you might pre-plan, practice self-care, and offer what you can without depleting all your resources. Because no matter what this time of year evokes for you, when you’re running on empty there’s little space or energy for effectively managing multiple stressors regardless of the season. And whether you’re anticipating the holidays or simply the end of another year, everyone deserves to have a little joy and peace as 2021 comes to a close.

About Anna Hickner, Psy.D.

Anna Hickner, Psy.D. is a Supervising Psychologist at The Health Center at Hudson Yards and Assistant Professor under the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She specializes in depression, anxiety, grief/loss, chronic medical conditions, trauma, and stress related to interpersonal relationships and life transitions. As a trained yoga and meditation instructor, Dr. Hickner provides a safe, empathic, and affirmative environment by using a holistic approach to wellness. Dr. Hickner speaks English and Spanish and has extensive experience working with adults from a variety of backgrounds including race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and place of origin.

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