Adults across the country are feeling festive but overwhelmed this holiday season.

A new poll by the American Psychological Association found 89% of respondents are stressed about not having enough money for the holidays, missing loved ones and family conflict.

“Most people experience an increase in stress around the holidays. I’m concerned that financial issues topped the list of stressors. More than half of the surveyed people say they are stressed because they don’t have enough money or are spending too much,” Shane Owens, PhD, a board certified psychologist told Theravive. 

“A lot of my patients are more concerned about money than they have been in the past. This will likely continue past the holidays and requires some serious attention from those who shape economic policies. While people in power talk a lot about mental health, most do not understand how economic security is necessary for good mental health.” 

49% of those surveyed said their stress levels during the holiday period between November and January were at moderate levels, but two in five say their stress increases at this time of year.

43% of people said the stress they feel during the holidays interferes with their ability to enjoy them and 36% say the holidays feel competitive. 

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed say they are stressed about experiencing family conflict during the holiday period.  

Owens argues that to a certain extent, some conflict between family members is normal.

“Family conflict is natural among healthy people who care deeply about one another. Remember that caring enough to engage in conflict means that you value the person or people with whom you may disagree. Also remember that your actions should represent your values. Ask yourself, “Is having this argument going to make the holiday better?” and decide what to do based on the answer to that question. The holidays will end, your time to fight the good fight will continue. Consider taking a pause for the holidays,” he said. 

Many people surveyed described the holiday period as a time of mixed feelings. 72% said the holidays were bittersweet. 

“Holidays often remind us of the losses we’ve suffered. In those cases, it helps to remember that any pain you feel from losing someone or something is a sign that you care deeply. Once you’ve acknowledged feelings of pain and loss, focus your effort on a valuable and healthy present and future,” Owens said. 

“Holidays also highlight the trade-offs that most of us make to experience joy. We sit in awful traffic to get to an important gathering. We stand in long lines to get the gift that someone special will really love. We suffer through waves of people we don’t like to be around those we love. Enjoy the process because the struggle is what gives value to the result. Cherish the destination because you deserve it.” 

Those surveyed are using a variety of coping mechanisms throughout the holiday period. 

Nine in 10 people say they have coping strategies to get through the holidays. 70% were comfortable talking with others about holiday stress, while 38% said they were trying to manage their expectations. 35% are trying to remind themselves the season will pass and 16% are choosing to spend their time volunteering. 

Owens says it can be helpful to choose ways to cope that start with the individual.  

“Start with personal coping mechanisms. Do things that don’t require anyone else. Listen to music that you love, watch movies, shows or streamers that bring you joy. If you can, get out and experience seasonal things. Even if you don’t celebrate the holidays, experience the things that are available only during this time of year,” he said. 

“Spend time with people who support and magnify you. Give the parties you were invited to a chance; feel free to leave if they don’t feel good. If the spirit moves you, volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. Do anything that demonstrates to others what you value about the holidays. If you’re really struggling and can’t find a way out, ask for help. 988 is available 24/7/365 in the US and there are people spending their holidays waiting for you to call.” 

Even with the stress, the holiday season still has positives for many people. 84% said the holiday season fostered a sense of togetherness and 69% said the stress during the holiday period is worth it in the end. 

“We tend to think that stress is universally bad. It’s not. Feeling stress means that you know that what you’re doing matters,” Owens said. 

“What you do in response to stress determines its effect on you. If you see the holidays as an inescapable black hole of pain and demands, you’ll end up less healthy. If you see them as hard work that provides opportunities to do good things and be with people you love, you’ll emerge better for it.”

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