“Are you ready for Christmas?” Every year around this time I hear this question from well-meaning friends and acquaintances trying to make friendly conversation. I’ll engage and recognize their intent, but all the while that question just adds more pressure to the long to-do list in my mind and prompts feelings of anxiety and insecurity about not being fully prepared, especially when others appear to have everything on their list checked off. While I accept that this season can bring with it extra stresses and responsibilities, especially for parents of young children, I’m also saddened when I think of it being reduced to a checklist. When I make a checklist, I feel accomplished when I can check it all off… and like a failure when I can’t. But Christmas is a holiday, not a checklist.

Let’s talk about what a holiday really is. The Old English translation for the word is literally “holy day.” The Christian tradition celebrates Christmas as the advent of Christ coming as the light of the world. Jesus was born at a time when hatred, hypocrisy and immorality prevailed; born to humble and poor parents in the humblest of conditions. In modern times, our celebrations bring pressures of hosting, cooking, cleaning, traveling and gift giving that have the potential to steal the joy of celebrating Christ and enjoying quality time together. High expectations to make the season really special can be overwhelming when added to the typical daily responsibilities. Furthermore, if tragedy, loss or disappointment has struck over the past year, then the holidays can heighten that sense of loss in comparison to the joyful festivities of the season.

Beware of Holidaze:

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines dazed as, “unable to think clearly or act normally due to injury, shock, bewilderment, fatigue, etc.” When the mind perceives stress, the body responds with fight or flight whereby adrenaline and cortisol are released when we feel that we don’t have the resources to deal with a situation. With chronic stress, the body can’t stay in that fight or flight state, and may shut down to cope, which is the freeze response associated with depression. The good news is that we can reduce or prevent this kind of response by shifting our perspective, adjusting expectations and honoring our limitations. Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association to reduce holiday stress and depression:

  • Acknowledge your feelings: Don’t force happiness
  • Reach out.If you feel lonely, seek out community.  Volunteer your time to help others.
  • Be realistic and flexible with traditions and rituals: Focus on fun, not perfection
  • Set aside differences: Accept family members and friends as they are. Set aside grievances until a later time and focus on what you have in common.
  • Keep a list of your responsibilities and stick to a budget. If you feel that you need to do a certain activity, ask yourself why?
  • Plan ahead to make sure that you make time for the activities most important to you, and also make a plan for how you will cope when things get stressful.
  • Delegate: Get help with set-up and clean-up of parties
  • Say No: Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. You don’t have to do something every year just because you’ve done it before.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits.Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
    • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Take a breather.Make some time for yourself. Examples: taking a walk, listening to soothing music, getting a massage, reading a book
  • Seek professional help if you need it.

Grief and Loneliness

For many, this is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” Losing a loved one adds an extra layer of grief at the holidays, and their presence is deeply missed at the table. Other sources of grief include: divorce, break-up or separation, strained family relationships, and infertility. The focus on children at Christmas can be especially painful for those battling infertility. Holiday traditions that are meant to bring joy serve as painful reminders of loss. Bottling up the sadness and other painful emotions also leads to depression. Here are some tips from grief specialist, David Kessler, for coping with grief during the holidays:

  • Lean into the feelings of grief, don’t avoid.
  • Externalize the loss
    • A prayer before the Holiday dinner, about your loved one.
    • Light a candle for your loved one.
    • Create an online tribute for them.
    • Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.
    • At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.
  • Have a Plan B: Alternative to going to a family gathering
  • “Cancel” the holiday if needed
  • Try the holidays in a new way with new traditions
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
  • If you are in a place to support those who are grieving, don’t ask if you can help or should help a friend in grief. Just help. Find ways; invite them to group events or just out for coffee.


Before I close, I want to emphasize the importance of self-compassion as an essential component to reclaiming peace during the holiday season. Our Inner Critic often is loud and can steal our joy, especially when we allow comparison a place in our minds. With my clients, I regularly teach the 3 components of self-compassion according to Dr. Kristin Neff.

  1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment: Talk to yourself as you would a friend, not your enemy.
  2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation: Recognize that someone else experiencing a similar situation would likely also be feeling the same way. You are not alone.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: Name your feelings and be mindful of them without over-identifying with them. For example, “I’m feeling disappointed that very few of my friends came to the party that I hosted,” rather than, “I’m rejected and don’t have any friends.”

In closing, showing compassion towards ourselves brings peace, and seeing compassion shown towards others brings hope.  That reminds us of Jesus bringing hope to the world and peace in our hearts, the true meaning of Christmas. So the next time someone asks me if I’m ready for Christmas, instead of focusing on the checklist, I’m going to try to focus on my heart. If there is peace in my heart, then there is more room for joy. So that’s my intention. What’s the most important change that you want to make this holiday season to care for yourself more and reduce stress?

From Nurtured Soul Counseling and Wellness, we wish you a Merry Christmas and joy in the New Year!


Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://merriam-webster.com

American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/holiday-season.aspx

Grief Specialist- David Kessler: https://grief.com

Dr. Kristin Neff: https://self-compassion.org

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