The holidays can be stressful for so many reasons. Maybe you don’t get along well with your family, maybe you’re worried about having enough money to spend on gifts, maybe it’s a busy time at work, or maybe balancing all of your plans is just taking a toll on you. Regardless of what you’re stressors are, there’s no denying that many of us feel our most anxious and busy at this time of year, even though it’s supposed to be a time of celebration. Luckily, there are many ways to manage your mental health so that you can actually enjoy the festivities!

To get the low-down on some of the best tips to have a stress-free holiday season, we spoke to licensed clinical social worker Lily Thrope, LCSW, PLLC, founder of Thrope Therapy. She gave us three essential steps to less stress: setting boundaries, breathing deep, and finding support. Find all of her helpful insight below!



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1. Set boundaries

For many of us, one of the biggest stressors during the holiday season is the fact that we spend extended time with family members we may not typically see—including ones we may not be the most comfortable with. For this reason, it's important to set clear boundaries with your loved ones. "Boundaries are extremely important in managing stress," Thrope says. She suggests reading Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free by Nancy Levin for further insight on this.

By now, you're likely already aware of a few topics that your family members may touch on in conversation that create stress for you. Being able to identify these stressors is the first step to setting a helpful boundary. "Sometimes it is helpful to have a conversation with a family member before the event letting them know where your boundary is," Thrope explains. "For example, letting your family members know that you are not open to any discussion around your body shape/size or your dieting habits before seeing them. This can let your family know that this is not on the table for discussion."

Of course, there's always the possibility that they may not respond well or that they'll overstep your boundary. In these cases, Thrope says you can "let them know that you feel this topic is uninteresting and stressful and you would rather speak about things that interest you such as your hobbies or career." She reminds us that "when we set a boundary we sometimes have to remind our family members of the boundary in real time." However, not backing down and not allowing your loved ones to disrespect your boundaries is essential to keeping your mental health in check. "Boundaries are extremely important because family members are not mind readers and might not know what topics feel triggering for you," Thrope says. "Speak up for yourself and set your strong boundaries."


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2. Practice deep breathing

As cliché as it may sound, focusing on your breathing really can make all the difference when it comes to managing stress. "Before entering into potentially stressful situations I suggest taking 10 deep breaths," Thrope says. Whether you're lying down, sitting, or even standing, your breath is a tool that you always have with you. "The goal of the breathing is to center you and bring you back to your own thoughts," she explains. "When we are feeling anxious we are brought outside of ourselves worrying about many external factors, such as what others think of us. When we breathe and practice mindfulness we come back to ourselves and are able to be our own best friend through challenging moments."

There are many breathing exercises out there, but centering yourself with your breath can be as simple as counting each one. You can count your breaths at any moment, whether you're preparing to enter a stressful situation or even right in the middle of one. "You can do it sitting at the dinner table as well as while you are taking a bathroom break," Thrope says. "I love that breathing is free and accessible anywhere anytime. Breathing also acts as a mindfulness routine and mindfulness is very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety." And so simple!


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3. Find support

Finally, remember that you're just one person—and sometimes you'll need a little support to lean on when things get really stressful. "Finding support during this time is also really important," Thrope tells us. That support can come in many forms. Having friends and family to listen to you and offer help when you need it is always great, but sometimes you may also need professional help. "Having a therapist that can help you navigate stress relief is really impactful," Thrope notes. "Having a space to process all the different stressors in your life, whether business, interpersonal relationships or anxiety can help you feel more zen during this challenging time."

Of course, there are many options outside of therapy as well. As she tells us, "it can also be helpful to vent to friends or family or journal during this time. Your self-talk will be really important in avoiding stress and maintaining a calm in our own mind." 

The bottom line

At the end of the day, the holidays can be extremely stressful, point blank. Above all, it's important to remember that you're not alone if you feel in over your head with stress and anxiety—and also to remember that these feelings won't last forever. Knowing yourself, your stressors, and the relaxation methods that work for you can make all the difference in these stressful times. And when in doubt, follow Thrope's advice: set some boundaries, take some deep breaths, and lean on your support system. 

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