Relieve your holiday stress with tips from Marblehead experts

Nearly 40% of Americans experience higher stress levels during the holidays. Most of them are women.

‘Tis the season for togetherness, joy, love and giving.  But for many, it’s also the season for stress, anxiety, sadness and loneliness.  The American Psychological Association says nearly 40 percent of Americans experience higher stress levels during the holidays. Only eight percent report feeling more joy.

“The holidays with all the hustle, bustle and expectations can increase stress for many of us,” said Dr. Melissa Kaplowitch, member of the Marblehead Mental Health Task Force and Salem State professor.

At the Marblehead Counseling Center, clinicians always see a boost in patients’ stress this time of year. 

“We do have a lot of people coming in and talking about the holidays,” said Marie Ouellette, MCC’s chief clinical officer. “Some people worry about not getting enough time off from work to get everything done. Others worry about finances. Stress comes in all areas, from all directions.”

The majority of people struggling with holiday stress are women, according to Ouellete.

“They’re often responsible for most of the holiday shopping and preparations,” she said. “There’s a fear of not beng able to please everybody and make everybody happy.  They’re trying to meet everybody’s expectations and their own expectations to make a perfect holiday. There’s no such thing.”

Holiday stress can trigger several physical symptoms, including “headachces, inability to sleep, exhaustion and stomach upset,” Oullette said. “It really hampers the holiday spirit.”

Oullette and Kaplowitch offered several tips and strategies to help relieve stress this season. They include:

Ask for help: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed,” Kaplowitch emphasized.

“If you’re in charge of holiday meals, try to have people bring things. People feel like they have to do everything on their own, which creates stress,” Oullette said.  

Practice self-care: “Deep breathing, taking a walk or even a hot shower or bath can provide relief quickly,” Kaplowitch said. “Having a buddy, be it a partner, friend of other trusted loved one to call upon, can also help to reframe a stressful moment.” 

Oullette encouraged people to get plenty of exercise and sleep this time of year. “You have to have some down time. You have to find balance.” She also recommended deep breathing and using apps like Calm. 

Avoid too much togetherness: “Family time, especially when extended family is involved, can be overwhelming,” Kaplowitch said. Oullette suggested limiting family gatherings to manageable periods of time that will feel special to you and your family.

Be honest about your feelings:  “There can be trauma and conflict within the family system,” Oullette warned. “Be aware of that ahead of time and try to deal with it. Stay away from subjects that cause conflict.”

Many people feel increased loneliness around the holidays.

“Try to reach out to friends, get connected to the Council on Aging if you’re older, ” Oullette recommended.  “Build that support system throughout the year, so that in times like this you can call somebody. Don’t refuse help. Take advantage of what the town has to offer.”

People who are grieving a recent loss can also find the holidays especially challenging.

“No one can take away your grief,” Oullette saiud. “Sit down and talk about your memories. I find that even in my own family, missing my parents, it helps to talk about the memories that make us laugh. So we focus on that.”

If possible, Kaplowitch urges people to focus on the good in their lives. “Remembering to reflect on the positive can set the tone for the holiday season. Be good to yourself.”

For more information about the Marblehead Counseling Center, visit To learn more about the Marblehead Mental Task Force, go to

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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