Decrease Holiday Stress by Writing Your Holiday Story

A man, surrounded by family, pours champagne at a holiday dinner.What’s your holiday story? For some, the holidays are about connecting with friends and family, eating hearty meals and treats, singing songs, or getting in touch with one’s spirituality. For others, the holidays are laced with groans, trepidation, loneliness, frustration, angst, or bouts of depression and anxiety. Or perhaps, these scenarios coexist.

With increased obligations, people are in demand this time of year. With so much more on our plate, literally and figuratively, it’s easy to feel overloaded and disconnected from what the holiday season is supposed to mean. Combine that with mandatory or obligatory time spent with relatives or coworkers that may not normally spend time together, and the holidays can be a recipe for increased stress. Suddenly our holiday stories are about shopping, traveling, running from place to place, and making small talk. They are frenzied, lacking depth and feeling. I call this a thin story. When thin stories take over our lives, we may retreat inside ourselves, which feels worse.

You can rewrite or even prewrite your holiday story as an antidote to a thin holiday story that threatens to keep you on edge. The story you create needs depth so that it has better staying power than the old story. The way to create depth is to get in touch with what you value. Below is step by step example of prewriting or rewriting a holiday story.

Write down the following:

  1. Describe the thin story. Example: Rushing around, complaining about not having time, dreading family get-togethers, spending too much money, overeating.
  2. Identify what living out the thin story does to you. Example: It makes me not want to do anything. I dislike the holiday season, and if I go to my family with a bad attitude I know things will turn out poorly.
  3. Answer the question, “Why does this bother me?” Example: It bothers me because I want to connect with people and the spirit of the holidays. I remember how wonderful the holidays felt as a child and I want my children to feel that, too. I also tend to eat too much, and then I feel bad about myself and my body.
  4. Look at your answers to step three. Then write down three words or phrases that describe what matters to you. Example: Connection with others, being a good mother, taking care of myself and my body.

In four steps you have created the beginning of a holiday story that, at its core, contains what matters most to you. Hold onto it in all you do this season.

If the thin story starts to take over, give yourself three seconds to remember the three phrases you came up with in step four. Wear these phrases like armor. They are there to protect you from anything that wants to take you farther from who you are and what matters most. Even if you can’t do everything you might want this holiday season, remember that you can still be you and stay true to what you hold dear.

© Copyright 2009 by Peggy Derivan, MS, LMHC, therapist in Rochester, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment


    November 12th, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    This is so true…in between all the maddening rush and celebrations and get togethers, we start feeling like we connot go on any longer and as most of us dislike some members of our extended family, spending time with them due to obligatory reasons becomes a real pain in the neck.

  • jennings


    November 12th, 2009 at 4:28 PM

    My family hardly interacts with other relatives, its usually just the four of us taking off to a new place every holiday season. This, I guess, is the reason why we are a lot more relaxed than most other families…atleast we don’t have to ‘stand up’ to show our love and care when we host our relatives ;)

  • Duminy


    November 13th, 2009 at 2:49 AM

    I just love the holiday season because I get to go back to Wichita and be with my family and friends. I really do miss them. But the worst part is when its all over, am back to work and am looking forward to the next holiday season!

  • Donna


    November 13th, 2009 at 5:51 AM

    There have definitely been years in the past where I have allowed me and my family to be stretched too thin. Too many dinner committments, too many dinners to throw together at my own house. After a while we all just got so burned out that none of us were really enjoying the holidays any more. After my husband and my kids all sat down to talk about it we decided no more traveling headaches or entertaining for us on either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We decided that we wanted to use that time to spend as a family, our family, and now we do simple things at home on those days. It really gives us the time and the energy to appreciate what we have at home, with typically enough left over for us to share with other family memebers and friends on another day.

  • Jimmy Hopes

    Jimmy Hopes

    November 13th, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    My younger brother underwent a lot of bullying by my cousins whenever they came over for the holidays… I would protect him, but whenever I wasn’t around, they would all bully the poor guy like crazy… the bullying gradually stopped as he grew up but then something hit us… he must have been twelve years old when he broke down in front of the whole family as to how the earlier bullying had pushed him into a scare forever and how he dreaded the holidays everytime… it was then that we realized that he was actually withdrawn during the holidays from all of us…we had not noticed this in the past… luckily, this fear of his went away gradually with good interactions and family celebrations during successive holiday seasons since then and he, in his teens now, loves the holidays… :)

  • Peggy Gold

    Peggy Gold

    November 17th, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    I’m enjoying that many comments posted on my story at this point are ones of happiness and making choices that preserve the meaning of the holidays for people. It’s heartening to know that even with tough old “holiday stories”, we are able to re-write them and get to what we want from this time of year. Reading these comments has me wanting to take back my own version of the holidays as well. Thanks for the inspiration!


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