The holidays are supposed to be a time of good cheer, but whether it's budget-busting expectations or feelings of loneliness, the season can be more stressful than festive.

 There are things you can do to cope, and Number 1 on psychologist Janine Hubbard's list is simple: Be realistic.

"If you've never once in your life gotten along with your Uncle Joe who is coming to dinner, Uncle Joe isn't going to change his behaviours just because it's Christmas," said Hubbard, president of the Association of Psychology Newfoundland & Labrador (APNL).

"We need to set realistic expectations for ourselves and others."

Janine Hubbard

Janine Hubbard is a pediatric psychologist and president of the Association of Psychology in N.L. (Twitter)

Hubbard said a perfectly crisp turkey with everyone on their best behaviour receiving the ideal gift just isn't realistic, so one way to avoid disappointment is to set some reasonable goals. 

Ask yourself: "What can I do that's manageable, that I'm going to enjoy that won't keep me up until 2 in the morning baking cookies?" said Hubbard.

Christmas sweets

It's supposed to be a time of joy but many people can find the holidays stressful. (Anya Levykh)

Being realistic about your budget is probably most important when it comes to reducing stress. 

"That's often one of the biggest stressors that people encounter, especially once we hit the winter months and all the bills come in," said Hubbard.

Take time for yourself

Pacing in terms of activities and not over-scheduling are also important measures for preventing holiday burnout.

"We break from the typical routine but then we fill it up with so many things that we want to cram into the holidays that we then come back to work or to school in January absolutely exhausted."


Vulnerable groups over the holidays include those who are recently bereaved, divorced or separated, those suffering from mood or eating disorders, and those who are struggling financially or without family or close connections.

Whether it's the first Christmas after losing a loved one or lack of close social connections, Hubbard said it's also important to be mindful that the holidays can be a difficult period for many people.

"It's okay to say, 'Hey, I'm not really sure what the right thing to do or say is at the moment but I wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you. What can I do to help?'" 

If you know someone is struggling with substance abuse or an eating disorder for example, she suggests planning something social that doesn't focus on food or drink, such as a games night or a walk in the woods.

'It's figuring out what's going to help you and make you feel better and help you get through the holidays.' - Janine Hubbard

Hubbard also has advice if you're going through a tough time or feeling overwhelmed.

"If you're someone who is experiencing a lonelier Christmas or a more vulnerable Christmas, maybe that's the year you say I'm not going to have a turkey. Maybe I'm going to make myself a frozen pizza because that's something I enjoy, and there's nothing wrong with that," she said.

"It's figuring out what's going to help you and make you feel better and help you get through the holidays."


Feelings of loneliness can be amplified during the holidays when there's an expectation that everything should be perfect. (Getty Images/Johner RF)

Hubbard said there are resources available on the Association of Psychology Newfoundland & Labrador website, including mental health crisis line numbers, how to access psychological services and more tips to get through holiday stress. 

With files from Labrador Morning