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National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month

By Chloe Smith, MSW Intern
Screaming woman wearing a Santa hat in front of a Christmas tree
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“Happy Holidays!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Merry Christmas!” The commercialism of holidays expects us to be joyful, happy, and merry, but “the most wonderful time of the year” can turn into the most stressful time of year.   

Did you know that December is National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month? You might be thinking to yourself, “how?” Between holiday season travel, shopping, the crowds that accompany them, hosting dinners, feeling alone, grieving the loss of a loved one, financial problems, and family tension, the holiday season may come along with significant stress. For many, the holidays can cause serious anxiety and depression. Keep reading for ways to cope with this holiday season.  

Ways to manage holiday expectations

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As we established above, the holiday’s can be a major source of stress for a variety of reasons. Along with the holidays come unrealistic expectations for some. The holidays have become commercialized. In other words, there is pressure to spend money, purchase perfect gifts, spend time with people, and make a fabulous dinner. The good news is there is ways we can manage this. Read below for some tips to manage holiday expectations:

  • Keep in mind that holidays are not always about buying gifts. They can be about creating unforgettable memories with your loved ones that are much more memorable than a gift.  
  • Create a realistic budget. Think ahead about the total amount of money you can spend this holiday season. Make sure you consider food, decorations, travel expenses, and gifts.  
  • Come up with a plan. Don’t do your errands all at once. Make a schedule that spreads your errands out, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with an overload of tasks to complete.  
  • Delegate tasks. Ask others for help when possible. Ask if someone can take the chicken out of the oven, fold laundry, or pick up a Walmart order. Besides, asking someone else for help may make them feel needed.  
  • Take a break from social media. We often see others posting highlights of great dinners, fun holiday parties, or expensive gifts. Small glimpses of other’s lives can be deceiving and lead us to feel more pressure.  
  • If you want to avoid crowds, find times that stores are less crowded. Typically, shopping centers are less crowded on weekday’s and weekday evenings. If this is feasible with your schedule, shop at these times versus the weekends.  
  • Accept holiday invitations to events you are genuinely excited to attend. Politely decline those that cause stress.  
  • Make time for yourself! Take a moment to take a couple of deep breaths. Make sure you recharge and are kind to yourself too.  

Mental health over the holidays

Stress, anxiety, and depression around the holiday season is real and normal. The stressors that come along with the holiday season can create a perfect storm for increased mental health symptoms and setbacks. Again, the good news is there are resources to help you manage the holiday season. Whether you would prefer to manage your mental health on your own or seek professional support, know that there are options for both.  

For starters, you while you are out of Morgantown for break, you can access care through TalkSpace.  Seeking professional support is a way to proactively manage your mental health leading up to, during, and following the holiday’s. 

Please know that the Carruth Center will be following the University Holiday Schedule for Fall 2021.  We will be open on Monday, December 20th - Wednesday, December 22nd.  The Carruth Center will be closed from Thursday, December 23rd - Monday, December 27th.  The Carruth Center will also be open Tuesday, December 28th and Wednesday December 29th.  We will then be closed again from Thursday, December 30th and resume all normal activity on Monday, January 3rd.

Tips to tend to your mental health on your own: 

  • Exercise. Exercising releases  endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that interact with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain. Releasing endorphins (exercise) lessens the symptoms of depression.  

  • Don’t isolate yourself from others- this only increases feelings of loneliness. Spend time with company that you enjoy.  

  • Implement self-care into your schedule. Take a hot shower. Light a candle. Scrub your face and wash your hair. Read an enjoyable book. Watch your favorite movie or tv show. Listen to your favorite music. Do what it takes to feed your soul.  

Grief over the holidays

The empty seat at the table this year may be the cause of your stress this holiday season. The absence of a loved one can be a constant reminder during the holidays. Grief can be intensified and worsen. Feelings of sadness can be overwhelming. Please keep in mind: 
  • It is okay to feel this way. Acknowledging your feelings and working through them is healthy.  

  • Don’t feel pressured to follow through with family traditions. Sometimes family traditions with the absence of a loved one is too painful and hard to manage, and that’s okay.  

  • Again, take care of yourself. Cope in healthy ways (exercise, be around good company, take a hot bath). 

Keep in mind, it’s not all sad. The anticipation of the sadness and pain can be stressful, but the holidays provide an opportunity for healing and remembering warm memories of past holidays. The holiday season will have sad parts and wonderful parts. Just remember, you are not alone. There’s somebody else out there going through a similar experience as you. You might even feel up to lending a kind hand or listening ears to somebody else.

Volunteering during the holidays

Volunteer with a snowman taking the place of the "L."  Snow falling in the background.
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Volunteering spreads true, holiday cheer. Are you tired of the expectations and stress of the holiday? Try leading by example with giving back to your community or others who are struggling through this holiday season. Donating food, serving meals, gathering coats and blankets to donate are great ways to volunteer, but the opportunities don’t stop here. Try WVU’s  iServe service where you can easily find hundreds of volunteer opportunities that match your interests. 

While there is no monetary compensation for volunteering, you are not working for free. You gain countless benefits from volunteering. Evidence shows that it can improve your mood and life satisfaction, create an opportunity for new, personal relationships, and make you value what you have. Like said above, you are not the only one feeling overwhelmed and stressed this holiday season. Lead by example and be the one that genuinely spreads the holiday cheer. Make a difference by serving others. 

The holidays have become so stressful across the nation that December has been dedicated as National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month. You are not alone in the way you feel. Remember to be kind to yourself because we are often our own worst critic. All you can do is your best, and that is good enough.  
Chloe Smith

Chloe completed her Masters of Social Work program at West Virginia University and was a trainee at the Carruth Center from 2019-2020.