by Amy Clay, LPC, Co-founder of Sunstone CounselingThe holiday season is in full swing, which welcomes celebrations, traditions, family, and fun. Yet for many people it can also bring stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and over-indulgence.

There’s pressure to purchase the most thoughtful gifts, have an expertly decorated home, host or attend parties/gatherings, and look festive (matching family PJs on Instagram, anyone?) – all in the name of the “perfect” holiday season.

The demands can pile on and leave us feeling burned out, exhausted, and falling short of expectations. But it doesn’t have to be this way. After all, we’re in charge of how we approach the holidays.

So what if we re-evaluated how we celebrate the season to prioritize our health, welcoming less stress and more ease?

(Holiday) Burnout Is Real

Many of Sunstone’s counselors participate in our enriching monthly book club. The topics vary but all are intended to help us be better therapists. Last month we read Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A..

I was drawn to this book in part because of its resonance with so many people, who – perhaps more notably during the holiday season – are experiencing a state of overwhelm, stress, and exhaustion.

What also struck me is how chronic this state of burnout is, particularly in connection with what the Nagoski sisters call “human giver syndrome” – the idea, especially for women, that we have a duty to give ourselves (our time, our bodies, our dreams, and more) to others.

Chronic stressors are often nearly impossible to avoid in our modern life, leaving many people feeling “stuck,” something we hear often in client sessions. These stressors can have very real impacts on our physical bodies and mental health.

The verbal processing of these experiences in a safe and connected counseling experience is a fundamental step in becoming ”unstuck.” Additionally, we can work to actively help our bodies physically complete the stress cycle.

Moving Through the Stress Cycle

This holiday, take a moment and think about something that makes your blood pressure rise. Some of these triggers may be unavoidable (although some may be…more on that later), so it’s important to recognize and physically release the stress. The Nagoski sisters break down simple but effective ways to help our bodies move through the stress cycle.

  • Move! Since stress is physical, it makes sense that physical activity is a big part of completing the stress cycle. Take a break and get outside for a walk, or engage in your favorite physical activity such as biking, dancing, or yoga.
  • Create! Think about a few creative activities that you enjoy. Maybe you like coloring books or writing poetry. Maybe it’s knitting, gardening, or cooking. Whatever gets your creative juices flowing, do it!
  • Laugh! Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s a great way to move through and release emotions. Laugh at yourself or with your favorite TV show. Spend more time with the friends and family who tickle your funny bone.
  • Cry! Many of us (especially men) have been socially conditioned to hold back our tears and keep a “brave face,” but crying is natural and another good way to move through the stress cycle. Try to connect with your feelings and let the tears flow.
  • Rest! Our health is dependent on getting a good night of restorative sleep. This is when every aspect of our bodies – from our nervous system to our brain to our mood – gets to recharge and restore. Even laying or sitting still with your eyes closed can be a beneficial way to rest.

Rethinking Your Holiday Habits

If you’re like most people, there are aspects about the holidays you find challenging or stressful. Maybe it’s worrying about blowing your healthy eating habits, or not finding/affording the perfect gift, or facing the family member who rubs you the wrong way. Sometimes, it feels like what we dislike about the holidays are an immutable and inevitable part of celebrating the season.

But they don’t have to be.

This season – amidst the seemingly endless gatherings, cooking, shopping, and cleaning – consider rethinking how you approach the holidays so that you prioritize your mental and physical health.


Ask yourself:

  • Am I overcommitting myself?
  • What is important to me this holiday season?
  • How do I want to feel after the holidays are over?

Then, with these goals in mind, remind yourself that it’s okay to:

  • Avoid overfilling your schedule; decline invitations without guilt!
  • Excuse yourself from toxic or triggering conversations
  • Remove non-essential things on your holiday to-do list
  • Ask for and accept help from those around you


In our efforts to achieve the “perfect” holiday gatherings, decorations, dinners, gifts, etc., we lose sight of what’s important.

“We often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations,” said Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program.

Accept that imperfection is not only okay – it’s healthy and normal. Give yourself grace and remind yourself of what’s truly important to you, be it enjoying the company surrounding you or attending to your self-care.


Don’t forget that the best gift you can give yourself is time to relax, process, and recharge. Prioritize your physical and mental health by practicing self-care throughout the holiday season.

Even if it’s just five minutes of slow breathing or a quick stretch in between wrapping gifts, mindfully attending to your health can make a difference in helping you navigate the season’s challenges.

Help Yourself Through the Season

The holidays can be a great time to reflect and evaluate how your choices are serving you. Even if you decide not to change anything, the act of reflection is still valuable and can keep you moving forward in a way that prioritizes your mental health.

A trained therapist can support you in re-evaluating the behaviors and habits that may not be working and help you implement healthier changes. Reach out to Sunstone and find the right counselor for you.

It’s the best gift you can give yourself. 


Filed under: Holiday

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Sunstone Counseling aims to support you throughout life’s challenges. Stay up-to-date on upcoming workshops and group sessions, and get mental health tips and resources when you connect with us.