Coping skills for the most wonderful time of the year

By Michelle Salerno, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Riverview Counseling Services and Joi Counseling Center

The holiday season is upon us. For some, this brings about feelings of excitement, nostalgia, and anticipation. For others, it triggers feelings of worry, anxiety, and sadness. Most will experience a mixture of these complex emotions.

Each year the holiday season seems to begin earlier and earlier. Our surroundings send us the message that we should be excited about the holidays. So, what if we aren’t? Sometimes this can cause frustration within and we ask ourselves . . . why can’t I just relax. . . why can’t I be joyful like my friends?

When we find ourselves meditating on the negative messages in our heads, it’s important that we interrupt the cycle of negative self-talk.

We can be so self-critical and often talk to ourselves in ways we would never imagine speaking to others. In fact, when and if we do catch ourselves wrapped in a demeaning inner dialog, it’s important that we see a big red stop sign flash in our minds to nip those thoughts in the bud.

Next, we need to replace the negative talk with positive. For example:

“It’s okay that I feel differently than others about the holidays. I’ve had a tough year”


“I’m entitled to have my own feelings, just as my friends are entitled to theirs”


“I’m working on improving my attitude and that’s a process that takes time. I need to be patient with myself.”

Everyone has a right to their feelings. Even during “the most wonderful time of the year!”

A good mantra to have tucked away for complex moments when you’re not feeling the way the world expects you to respond is:

“I have a right to my feelings, even if others feel differently.”

We all bring our own history to each moment. Holiday stress often falls under categories that I call the “4 Fs:” Family, finances, frenzy, and food.


The holidays may signal more family time for you. This can be a nerve-racking time for some, and while this doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family or that you aren’t a good daughter, sister, mother, etc., it does means you are human and healthy humans experience a full range of emotions.

Family time can also be frustratingly conflicting. It can be confusing when, in your everyday life, you may be secure, accomplished, articulate, and calm but when you walk through what I call the “magic door” of your family home, you shrink.

And suddenly you are 8-years-old again.

The same old buttons are being pushed by your family members that were pushed back then. Everyone falls back into the same roles you had when you were growing up. For example, if you are the “baby” in your family, perhaps your opinions are not taken seriously because you are still viewed as the little sister . . . even though you may run your own household, or maybe even your own company.

Often families fall back into these old roles when everyone is back together.

Sometimes what was a familiar routine and the way our family treated siblings, mom, dad, step-parents, etc, maybe even more stressful than not being heard. Although we have some wonderful memories with family, some may be painful and being together may bring up some of those memories.

As a family, you may also be touched by loss. Being together may remind you of who isn’t present and that’s difficult to maneuver by yourself let alone in a crowd of relatives.