Tips from a Counselor : How to Manage the Holiday Stress


holiday stress

Disclosure : Thank you to Snappy Kids  for sponsoring this post and to Vanessa Whalen, LSCSW for sharing her expertise with our community of moms. 

Okay, it’s happened. One of my Facebook friends posted a photo of the family Christmas tree that had been decked out… on HALLOWEEN! Frankly, I’ve barely caught my breath from the beginning of the school year. The signs are clear though, that holiday stress season is soon to be upon us. I love this time of year and all that it brings,but sometimes, the holidays carry a layer of unwanted stress.

Here are some quick tips to help you reduce your stress level this holiday season:

Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

When I was in graduate school, our professor was trying to impress upon us how important self-care would be in our chosen profession of social work. His words were possibly the most important I heard during my school career: “When the cabin pressure drops and the oxygen masks fall, put yours on first.” We’ve all heard that a million times when we fly, right? But it is vitally important as parents that we heed this instruction. If we are worn out, stressed out, maxed out, we are not at our best for those we love most. We lack the energy and motivation to fully enjoy the season and participate in the things that will make wonderful memories for our little ones. Take a yoga class, have coffee with a friend, take a walk, listen to music–find something that soothes and reenergizes you.

Remember What’s Important

I’ve been working with children in my practice for many years now, and I often get to hear things from them that maybe their parents don’t. Here’s one thing I can tell you for sure: kids remember the time you spend with them more than the stuff you get them. Even if a child shares about a new toy or game they got for Christmas, their story always includes how they played with this game or toy with Mom or Dad, or with their siblings. My play therapy room is stocked with toys, but I’ve yet to have a kiddo want to go in there alone to play. Don’t buy into the message that your kids have to have more and more stuff. Toys are great (I love them!), but people are better.

Lower Your Expectations

Remember the scene in the movie, A Christmas Story, where the family is having Christmas dinner at the Asian restaurant? That scene follows one in which the neighbors’ dogs destroyed Mom’s prize turkey dinner, along with a host of other calamities. That scene was brought to you courtesy of imperfection, and it’s one of the most joyous scenes in the movie. The turkey slipping to the floor is only a disaster if we label it so. I suspect there will be some imperfection in your holidays, and unless someone is filming your dinner preparation, let the imperfections go. And if someone IS filming, ask for another take!

Ask for (and Accept) Help

Guess what? When people ask what they can bring for a dinner or party, they really mean it! I love to make favorite treats to share at gatherings. For years when we lived in the same town, my friends and I cooked dinner together every Friday night. Those were memorable times. Don’t feel as though you have to do it all unless you really want to, and if you do, see above.

Practice Gratitude (and Model it for Your Children)

Often, it takes a natural disaster in a far-off place for us to remember how blessed we really are. This season, try to remember that much of the stuff you’re worrying about is BECAUSE you’re so blessed–with loved ones, a home, a job, a dinner to make. And if you’re reading this, you’re likely blessed with children or grandchildren. If there’s more to be grateful for than that, I don’t know what it is.

How do YOU manage the inevitable holiday stress?

Vanessa Whalen - Snappy KidsVanessa Whalen, LSCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-founder of Snappy Kids, LLC, along with her husband John Harrison. Snappy Kids makes therapeutic mobile apps for kids to help them learn about and manage their feelings. The company’s latest app, Snap’s Stories About Feelings, is available for $2.99 on the iTunes App Store and on Google Play. The app is intended for kids ages 4-10 and contains three stories (about anger and worry) with accompanying activities. No reading is required. More stories will be released for purchase on a regular basis. This fall, Snappy Kids also released its first story/coloring book, “Don’t Explode, Snap” available on And finally, Snappy Kids recently introduced a parenting series, Parenting in a Snap, on YouTube. The series offers tips about school drop-off, bedtime routines, and picky eaters among other things, and is designed as a quick, on-the-fly resource for busy parents. For more information about Snappy Kids, or to sign up for our newsletter, visit