Christmas decorations, garland and ribbon on a green surface

What your therapist
wants you to know
about holiday stress

By Dr. Penelope Neckowitz, PhD + Kathleen Morrison
November 28, 2022

It’s no secret that the holidays are one of the most stressful times of year for many people. A recent survey from Mt. Sinai Hospital on Long Island, NY found that women under 50 are often the most stressed as the holidays approach, with family and finances being 2 of the biggest causes of this stress. 61% of women under 50 reported their stress levels as “high” or “very high” leading up to the holiday season.

With this in mind, our favorite therapist and sex coach, Dr. Penelope Neckowitz, is back to share her words of wisdom about how you can lighten your mental load this holiday season.

The holidays… Christmas lights… gift-giving… the promise of togetherness and connection… and yet….

The holidays are a time that is supposed to be about love and celebration, but often becomes a source of disappointment and high stress. For many, the holiday season has exploded into so much more than a time for connection, becoming a time of stress, overload, and a reminder that one’s life isn’t exactly picture perfect. It’s so important to know: you are not alone feeling this way!

Holiday stress is real. Concerns about money loom, especially with the pressure to spend to make holidays a special time for friends and family. Family stressors, travel, and demands around social and familial obligations become overwhelming and leave you feeling depleted, rather than filled with holiday joy. Those who have lost a loved one or are going through other personal challenges often struggle under the pressure to put on a happy face.

For women, this is a particularly difficult time, as often women do the bulk of the buying, the decorating, the cooking, and the emotional tending—all the behind the scenes managing that hopefully allows things to run smoothly. A survey from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York found that women under 50, especially those that work outside the home, are the most stressed about almost all aspects of the holidays. This stress impacts physical and mental health. Just thinking about all of it is stressful for many.

We, as women, often find that we have been conditioned to work “till we drop,” and we then find ourselves in a state of exhaustion and emotional depletion. Boundaries and learning to say “no” is a skill that often is not taught or encouraged as women grow up and it is one that many women struggle with, especially in light of all the cultural expectations around happiness and giving during this season. Marketing and cultural norms reinforce the idea that we should selflessly give and that this giving is in line with the greater good. And yet, when we do that, we seem to have lost the art of giving to ourselves and nurturing ourselves so that we may be more present and available to connect with others. Where does the tending and care for oneself fit in? Self-care often becomes the lowest priority on one’s to do list!

Imagine being able to say “no,” and to properly honor your boundaries to choose wisely about activities and commitments. The reward can be presence, connection, and pleasure in those holiday activities and commitments you intentionally choose to embrace.

Here are some things that I find it helpful to remember to reduce holiday stress and depression:

  • Make self-care a priority
  • Remember to breathe: even 10-15 minutes a day of mindful breathing will make a difference
  • Take breaks during the day—go outside, feel the fresh air, be in nature if possible
  • Eat healthy and avoid alcohol for de-stressing
  • Listen to music
  • Dance
  • Rest
  • Self-pleasure
  • Remember to laugh at even the smallest absurdities
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself in terms of how much you can and will do
  • Say NO if you aren’t able to do something—don’t apologize or make excuses
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Remember that the holiday is about connection, not how much money you spend or how well you decorate
  • Create rituals with those with whom you feel supported, especially if you are alone or have no family
  • Recognize that others are stressed as well and may be suffering so that you don’t personalize others’ bad behavior
  • See if you can change your perspective to one that gives you more internal space
  • Connect to your own inner kindness and gratitude
  • Reach out to a friend or family member when stressed to defuse emotional charge
  • Acknowledge and honor your feelings- let go of “shoulds” and know that your feelings are valid and not to be ignored
  • Accept that imperfection is normal and that “good enough” is okay
  • Most importantly, keep in mind what really counts for you and practice self-compassion

All of these suggestions are important to effectively manage our stress and anxiety. These suggestions help us to move beyond the “fight or flight” or “shut-down” response and regulate the nervous system. Breathing, laughing, dancing, and self-pleasure all help to stimulate your organs, bring bloodflow to your cells, and increase your endorphins so that you may feel more ease and shift your mood. Even though the holidays can evoke great stress and unease, practicing self-compassion provides an opportunity for greater self-knowledge and self-love, which can then cascade outward into your world in a rich and rewarding way. But remember, it starts with you! You and your feelings matter!

Penelope Neckowitz, PhD is a licensed psychologist and therapist, a certified Erotic Blueprint Coach™, an Embodied Female Pleasure™ facilitator, and a long time pleasure researcher and pleasure activist. She is committed to helping women connect to their erotic life force energy and live more freely with less shame and greater freedom of expression. You can learn more on her website

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