How To Deal With Emotions & Stress During The Holidays

By Stephanie McPhail, MS.

The holidays can be especially challenging for those of us who have suffered from the effects of being in a toxic relationship. But regardless of your past experiences, they don’t have to be as stressful.

Why are the holidays so difficult?

This is because of a simple principle: our stress arises from an awareness of the gap between our expectations or how we feel things should be, and the reality of how they are.

Though traditionally for most people the holidays are meant to be a time for peace, love, joy and connection, when you’re in a toxic relationship, they can be exceptionally difficult.

We want to feel love, acceptance, forgiveness, kindness, gratitude, and all the joyful feelings of what should be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Instead, you may have come to expect that the holidays are going to be aggravating, stressful, sad, lonely, tedious and costly.

You may experience pain or deep disappointment recalling memories of the hope and excitement surrounding the holidays you had when you were a child, as later in life the luster has left.

How can having a toxic partner affect the holidays?

When you’re with a significant other who has unresolved emotional issues, doesn’t get along with your family and friends, is unsupportive, contentious or just plain disagreeable, dealing with your commitments with a toxic partner during the holidays can be like throwing a dried-up Christmas tree into a bonfire.

Many of you may also be scarred by past traumatic experiences in your relationships during the holidays.

For example, when I was in my first marriage, one year my husband and I were making Thanksgiving dinner for his sister. Upon hearing the news that his sister had a fight with her husband, my ex flew into a fit of rage and proceeded to throw a chair across the room, putting a hole in the wall. I had to hide in the garage until his fury subsided, and when his sister finally came over, we pretended that everything was ok.

The holidays can be difficult for codependent people, because their tendency to ignore their own boundaries and people-please in order to avoid conflict can cause heightened levels of stress. To cope, many people use the holidays as an excuse to eat or drink to excess as a way to distract from their inner turmoil.

How can I avoid becoming stressed out during the holidays?

Whether you’re navigating the sometimes challenging area of relationships during the holidays or just in your everyday life, the key is in learning to master control of your emotional state.

Managing your emotional state can be difficult enough on your own, never mind when you’re faced with varying interpersonal dynamics in a group of friends and family.

The solution is very simple (though often challenging): practicing mindfulness. Starting your day listening to a guided mindfulness meditation audio is a great way to set the tone for your day and help you be more resilient to stressful situations.

Another important shift you can make moment by moment is to catch yourself responding to challenges in your typical way, allow yourself to pause for 5 seconds and decide to give a new personal meaning to the situation. This can create an opportunity to respond in a brand new way and set the stage for a healthier response in your mind and body. This is all about reclaiming your power to consciously choose your attitude rather than simply reacting based on old programs, many of which likely complicated things in the past.

This simple principle can equip you to handle all forms of stress more easily, including dealing with a difficult romantic partner. Unless you address the root cause of a toxic relationship however, you will continue to spend energy trying to keep things from falling apart.

If you’re in a toxic or unhealthy relationship now, you may have come to realize that one or both of you must begin to take seriously the work of identifying and transforming the fear and pain that causes you to show up as less than your best, if the relationship is going to last. Until you do this, you may be destined to continue the cycle of pain and disappointment. But taking this seriously can either dramatically improve your current relationship, or help you become more magnetic for a healthy relationship in the future.


Most of us can accept that we cannot change other people, and with the demands that the holidays can put on us, it’s understandable that stress can run high. But you don’t have to settle for being fearful of what the holidays and spending time with family and friends might bring. You can begin to master control over your emotional state moment by moment, which will not only afford you more peace of mind each day, but will begin to shift the people and circumstances that show up in your life. Regardless of how long you’ve struggled with unhealthy relationships, things can change quickly, starting from the moment YOU begin to change the quality of the energy you generate through your thoughts and emotions. The holidays can be a joyful time once again! Imagine enjoying the holidays with a supportive partner. Even if your relatives are perpetually troublesome, navigating difficult family dynamics is easier when your partner not only doesn’t add to the pain but actually supports you in maintaining your peace and joy.

Stephanie and her husband David are a professional coaching team who specialize in helping professional women with the guidance, support and tools to break the cycle of toxic relationships, end self-sabotage and become the best version of themselves, so they can create and attract the best that life and love have to offer. Their 10 week Brilliant Life Blueprint coaching program guarantees you’ll experience dramatic improvements in your life and relationships, or they’ll continue working one on one with you for free until you do:

1 Response

  1. Jennifer says:

    the problem isnt relationships at Christmas it isa the lack of them, the loneliness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *