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5 Mindful Strategies for Holiday Family Stress

articles Oct 31, 2022
Family Stress

Over the holiday season, family stress can arise when we have trouble coping with the overwhelming responsibilities that often surround this time. And this stressful experience can transfer throughout the family. 

By bringing in a mindful approach to the holidays, you won’t get rid of the stress, but may be able to approach it and cope more skillfully, creating a better experience for everyone in the family.

Understanding how stress transfers from one family member to another is crucial. Two-thirds of people in the US cite the holidays as a very stressful period of time and one-third of workers globally report symptoms of burnout. Stress can be high within family circles and may have an unintentional impact on family members. 

A recent report from the University of Michigan found that 1 in 4 parents feel they have unrealistic expectations for themselves over the holidays, stretching themselves too thin physically, mentally, and financially, leading to increased stress. This report also showed that the increased stress parents feel can impact the joy experienced during the holidays, with 1 in 5 parents reporting their stress level negatively affects their child’s enjoyment of the holiday. 

Research is showing children will model their parents’ behaviour, so parents who deal with stress in unhealthy ways risk passing those behaviours onto their children. Fortunately, children will also model behaviours related to managing stress.

When parents cope with stress in healthier ways, they may promote resiliency and happiness within themselves, and, more importantly, help form critical habits and self-regulation skills in children.


Try these 5 mindful strategies to help you deal with your holiday family stress better.


1. Check in on the relationship you have with the holidays.

Are you someone who enjoys the holidays, and loves creating magical moments for yourself and loved ones, or is the overwhelm and responsibility of meeting expectations something you loathe? How you feel about the holidays is likely affecting those around you. Try practicing a mindset that fosters a healthy family dynamic, even if the holidays bring mixed feelings. The “COAL” practice, from Dr. Daniel Siegel, can be a helpful practice to remind us to be Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving in any moment and especially the challenging ones.

2. Bring attention to your lifestyle over the holidays.

What activities do you participate in, and how do they affect you and your relationships? For example, if the foods and substances you consume have a detrimental effect, try substituting these with more healthful choices.

3. Set an intention for how you would like the holidays to be.

Often the holidays “just happen” in a flash, with back-to-back holiday parties and events, with few moments of rest in between to fully enjoy this time. By setting an intention, you’ll be able to focus on what matters most this year. For example, try asking yourself, “What kind of experience would I like to have for myself (physically, mentally, and emotionally) and in my interactions with others?”

4. Focus on yourself.

It can be easy to lose touch with eating healthy foods, exercising, taking time for sleep and unplugging during the holiday rush. Try strategies to disconnect, take time for yourself and prioritize healthful foods and rest. By prioritizing self-care, you help yourself and those around you by fostering a healthy family environment.

5. Create a plan with the family.

Take time to explore healthy habits you can do collectively to mitigate family stress over the holidays. How can you set realistic expectations? What will you do, and what can you postpone for another time? Where can you support each other? Creating a common understanding of how you’ll approach the holidays will increase the likelihood of it happening.

With a bit of self-awareness and inspired action, you can return to enjoying the holidays with your family. Have a Happy Holiday!


 Michael Apollo MHSc RP is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is an educator, licensed mental health clinician and certified facilitator in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.


The Mindful Brain | J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry

Managing stress for a healthy family | American Psychological Association

Mott Poll Report | C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, University of Michigan

Holidays Can Be Stressful. They Don’t Have to Stress Out Your Team. | Harvard Business Review

Future Forum Pulse Report Fall 2022 | Future Forum

New research shows more than a third of all Canadians reporting burnout | Canada Life

Burnout | Mental Health UK

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