De-Stressing for the Holidays: A Gift for Parents

holidays needs stress thanksgiving Nov 22, 2023
Wide-eyed Wendy laying amidst a tangle of white holiday lights in advertisement for Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast Episode #103, called

It's that time: the holidays! As we are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I've noticed the parental stress is off the charts at this time of year.

Let's do a quick WHAT and WHY and then question the shit out of everything.

Why are the holidays stressful?

The stress is the way that we experience our feelings - I think of it as the body's experience or response to feeling. It's not necessarily the emotion - notice how there are times you want to feel frustrated or tired - and other times that it is so stressful because "I don't have time to feel this now." When we fight what we are feeling, we turn the stress up sky-high.

Hmmmm.... stress is fighting what our bodies are trying to tell us.

We have to first start with not accepting this as a given. "Holidays = Stress" has become a part of our language. But why are you stressed around the holidays?

I tend to hear a few things, and invite you to add on:

1) There's so much to do.

Why are we trying to stuff a year's worth of connections, celebrations and meet-ups within a 6 week period anyway? Let alone all the shopping and sneaking around to do things when others aren't looking or aren't awake is putting more burden on us as parents, and yes I'm specifically looking in the mirror at us, Moms.

I'm not telling you to not do it, I'm inviting you to just step back and look at the swirl from a slight distance.

What would you tell your bestie in this situation? Who says you HAVE to do all of these things? What do you want to give yourself permission to skip?

2) It's so hard to stay healthy during the holidays.

Oh boy. Isn't it fascinating how everyone has a cookie party and sweet treat and then lines up all the New Years resolutions shortly thereafter to magically purge ourselves of our "sins" over the holidays?

What is your concern about staying healthy during the holidays? Get clear about it. Is it colder than you like for your usual ways of moving your body? Is it the amount of sweets? Is it concerns about disruption of schedules and menus for travel?

Notice how there is a feeling of things getting swept away from us around the holidays. It's a sense of powerlessness amidst -- what do we call it? Holiday chaos.

What if there is a way to flex your healthy muscles, meaning... taking back the power of your decisions over the holidays.

In order to do that, get really clear about what is your concern and then just chip away: what is one little step you can take today? One decision that is benefitting your health? Focus on one teeny-tiny thing and knock it out of the park. For me, it was doing air squats before going out - I was cold and wanted to warm up and my body wanted movement. Nothing big, but I feel better.

3) I have to "make it magical."

Holy smokes, Santa -- the "magic of Christmas" has become the toil of parents. The freaking IG-ready spreads and delights is nuts, and driving parents nuts too. I mean, really.... Elf on the Shelf.

Making it magical for my kids turned into a pressure-filled expectation and comparison dread for me. Either it's the latest-greatest toy that everyone has to have, or the Holderness Family having matching jammies and singing about it.

What will make it magical for YOU? Sit with that question -- what is magical for you? 

4) My .... is so hard to please. (aka meeting other people's expectations)

My family is spread out across the country - and of course everyone wants to be the center of the universe. They all want to see grandkids and have them come to them. This has been the hardest thing for me over the years, along with a big helping of trying to make it all work.

I damn near drove myself nuts trying to meet all their expectations for holiday delights - and burning myself to a crisp along the way.

I've started asking myself: is this something that I want to do? And yes, seeing Gigi this Thanksgiving on her terms because of her age and health condition -- yes, that is exactly what I want to do. But having to drive multiple states to get there and THEN drive all over the county to see other able-to-travel relatives that live nearby, no. Their expectation that I come to them is not something that I can meet. My meeting their expectation exhausts and stresses me out. More than anything else it's because I.don'

OMG, the most de-stressing thing is when I listen to that one thing... I.don' And then, honor it. 

Our stress goes sky high when our bodies say no and we fight against it. Stress is fighting our own bodies.

5) Sensory overload

There is a special place in purgatory for those folks who created Christmas music soundtracks AND holiday-scented everything. Bed Bath and Beyond, the Body Works... are places on my no-go list. The sensitivity I have to sounds and smells during the rest of the year is completely overwhelmed between October and January.

Honor your nervous system

We are in an environment that is just overwhelming our nervous systems. It's like instead of a sabre-toothed-tiger laying in wait to jump out and get us, instead... it's Pumpkin Freaking Spice and Spicy Cinnamon. The environment is overwhelming.

So what do you need? What does your body need?

It can be as simple as offering yourself a bit of permission: to do what? I've opted to not be around (or purchase) anything smelly. It's that simple. Nope. Not doing it.


The holidays - ahem, Christmas - has turned into a capitalistic extravaganza for retailers, and a nightmare for parents. Advertising, social media comparisons and sales and the feeling that there's never enough money to go around: it's more than a feeling. It's truth.

But the stress... In truth, where does the money stress come from? What do you think will be better IF you had the money? To purchase more stuff? To make others happier with the purchases (not just stuff, but travel, experiences)...

We are living in a society where we think that more is better, and of course there is an expense attached to that.

I've started adopting a reframe: What do I want more of? Consider looking inwards... what do you want more of for yourself?

As I was writing this I thought, "How would I make it magical without spending a dime?"

OOh - that is so exciting to me. To think about the intangibles - creating connection and warmth and togetherness, not coming together to exchange gifts, but to connect. Ground-breaking to consider in this day and age and yet... that sounds so freeing to me. Freedom is the opposite of stress: I'm going to run with this one!


In the long run, I'm looking at stress through the lens of first listening to what's happening inside your body. Yeah, this is new - because I previously thought that feeling bad meant that there was something wrong with me - and my goodness, let's just fix it. But trying to fix it - people's expectations, more money for all the things, using willpower to ignore the dessert table - was actually just fighting both my body and making me responsible for everything.

Instead of fixing, I'm asking: what do I want?

I want peace. I want to breathe easier. I want to focus on one thing at a time. I want quiet. I want to be content with what I have.

It shifts from the external stressors to what I really want and can start creating right here.


If you want to build on, I'm hosting a How to Survive the Holidays series in early December. We will have small group live coaching for you to connect, learn and apply the tools to your unique family and feel better right away. 


Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:

Join Family in Focus coaching now. Current offerings available here.

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I ask a favor of you: if you liked this episode, please subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast service, and share with your friends so they know that there is a different way to stop struggling with worries about weight. It's easy and fun!

And when you're ready to start applying this in your own home, check out for more information about how the Family in Focus program can help you and your family create lifelong healthy relationships with food and body, now and at every weight.

Disclaimer: While Wendy Schofer, MD discusses health and wellness, this is not medical advice and she is not your doctor. Optimal health is achieved in combination with your physician, who collaborates with you for your individual health. Talk to your doctor. And tell them about Family in Focus. Mwah!


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