How To Navigate Emotions During The Holidays

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The holiday season is a time typically filled with traditions, celebrations, and gatherings with family and friends. While the holidays are often represented in a positive light in films and books, it’s a season that can evoke a mix of emotions for many people, and you are not alone in wondering how to best navigate your feelings during this time.

As you come close to the holiday season, you might feel overwhelmed by the emotions you are experiencing. By taking the time to understand the different emotions, where they originated, and the steps to manage them, it’s possible to gain a sense of control over your mental health. In this article, we will dive deeper into how to recognize these emotions and understand their roots. Plus, we’ll talk about some strategies for coping with strong emotions this holiday season. 

The holidays can be an exciting and challenging season

Understanding emotions during the holidays

Appreciating positive emotions

The holiday season often brings feelings of warmth and happiness. It’s a time to connect with loved ones and participate in traditions. Some reasons why you might enjoy the holidays include:

  • Joyful reconnections: The holidays often mean coming together with family, some of whom you might not have seen for a while. These reunions can evoke a sense of joy. The special moments, laughter, and even the simple act of being in each other’s presence can be a source of immense happiness.
  • Holding onto traditions: Engaging in family rituals, like decorating the house, preparing traditional dishes, or discussing stories, can evoke feelings of belonging. These traditions can act as reminders of one’s heritage and the strong bond among people in the family.
  • The joy of giving: There’s a unique pleasure in giving during the holidays. It could be in the form of presents, time, or just being there for someone. Witnessing the happiness it brings to your loved ones can elevate your own sense of joy and satisfaction.

Accepting negative emotions

Despite the joyous moments, holidays can bring challenges, primarily stemming from family dynamics and personal situations. If you experience negative emotions related to the holidays, you are not alone. Many people experience mental or physical distress during this time of year.

  • Managing expectations: The desire to create perfect holiday memories can sometimes overshadow the true essence of the season. It can be important to recognize and manage both societal and personal expectations to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Addressing old conflicts: Previous disagreements or unresolved issues can resurface during family get-togethers. Being aware of these tensions can allow for better preparation in handling or avoiding potentially volatile situations.
  • Respecting differences: Each person in the family is unique, and differences in opinions, lifestyles, or beliefs can arise. Navigating these differences often requires patience and understanding, especially in a group setting.
  • Handling personal struggles: For those undergoing personal challenges, whether they’re health-related, financial, or stemming from recent personal events, the festive atmosphere might intensify feelings of stress or loneliness. If this is the case, seeking support or adjusting holiday plans may be helpful.

Strategies to manage and prioritize your mental health through the holiday season

The holidays can cause a range of emotions. Developing strategies to navigate them can be important to ensure that our mental well-being remains at the forefront. Here are some strategies to help manage your feelings effectively and prioritize your well-being.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Be realistic

Holidays often come with high expectations, leading many of us to feel pressure to create the “perfect” celebration. But it’s important to understand that no holiday is without its hiccups. Instead of striving for perfection, embrace the inevitable imperfections. These unexpected moments can become treasured memories. 

During a time with family and friends, don’t hesitate to express your feelings. If you find certain preparations overwhelming or need to set limits, communicate your needs clearly to your loved ones. Adjusting expectations and having open discussions can make the holidays more manageable and enjoyable.

Organize and plan

Planning can greatly reduce stress levels. Instead of juggling tasks all at once, consider breaking them down into smaller steps and tackling them individually. Try not to forget to carve out moments for yourself amidst the hustle and bustle. Even taking a short break, like a walk outside or a few minutes of solitude, can refresh your mind.

Remember that holiday responsibilities shouldn’t fall on one person. Divide chores and preparations among family constituents. Dividing tasks not only reduces individual workload but also fosters a sense of teamwork and common purpose.

Handle tricky conversations wisely

Family gatherings can sometimes lead to sensitive topics or disagreements. You can prepare yourself by deciding which subjects you’d rather avoid. If someone ventures into uncomfortable territory, it’s perfectly acceptable to redirect the conversation. Instead of perceiving that you must always respond or defend, try to focus on listening. Understanding that every person in the family may be grappling with their own set of challenges can create a more compassionate and supportive environment.

Connect with your go-to people

Having a support system during the holidays can be invaluable. If you ever feel overwhelmed or isolated, reaching out to a trusted friend can provide a different perspective and offer comfort. They can be your sounding board, offering advice or simply a listening ear. However, if the emotional weight becomes too burdensome, consider seeking professional help. Therapists or counselors can provide coping strategies tailored to your needs.

Prioritize self-care

Maintaining physical health can significantly impact emotional well-being. Engaging in simple activities, like taking short walks or doing brief stretching exercises, can relieve tension. Mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing exercises or meditation, can be instrumental in calming a busy mind. As for food, while indulging in holiday treats is part of the festivities, it may be important to balance those exceptions with nutritious meals. Excessive alcohol can also exacerbate emotional highs and lows, so be mindful of your intake.

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The holidays can be an exciting and challenging season

Consider therapy

If navigating the emotions of the holidays feels overwhelming, consider meeting with a therapist who can help you find strategies for coping with your specific concerns and situation. If accommodating in-person therapy sessions during the busy holiday season sounds too difficult, consider online therapy. With online therapy, you can visit a therapist from the comfort of your home at a time that works best for you. It’s also often more affordable than traditional therapy, which can be valuable around the holidays.

When considering online therapy, you might wonder whether it’s as effective as in-person therapy. Research has shown that online therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is just as effective for many mental health conditions as traditional face-to-face therapy. In some cases, individuals might even feel more at ease opening up from the comfort of their own space, leading to more candid conversations.


Navigating emotions, especially during the emotionally charged holiday season, can be a complex task that requires self-awareness and proactive measures. However, with the right approach and tools, it’s possible to have an easier time navigating your emotions this holiday season.
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