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  • Writer's pictureLiz Morrison, LCSW

Surviving the Winter Holidays: 4 Techniques to Ease Hometown Anxiety

Surviving the Winter Holidays

Heading home for the holidays is often anxiety-inducing. Travel and being away from friends and everyday activities can be stressful. On top of that, there’s the mental preparation – and sometimes downright dread – around being at your parents’ house and seeing family and friends.


At Liz Morrison Therapy, we work with young adults and teens coping with anxiety, stress, life transitions, and finding their identity. Many of our clients struggle with anxiety about going home for the holidays. Holiday anxiety can trigger shame, guilt, confusion, distress, and other negative emotions – which tend to make the anxiety worse.


Understanding where your stress is coming from, and how to cope with that stress, can help you process and manage holiday anxiety. 

How to Cope With Holiday Anxiety


Here are 4 common reasons you might be experiencing anxiety about going home for the holidays, and tips on navigating them.

Seasonal depression

1. Seasonal depression

Isn’t it supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year?” For many people, the answer is quite simply… no. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depressive symptoms correlated with seasonal changes and colder weather can last up to 40% of the year. That’s a lot of winter blues.


For many people, seasonal anxiety and depression is a chemical response to shorter days, less sunlight, and increased feelings of isolation. The holidays can be a difficult time for those dealing with grief, loneliness, or family estrangement. All of this, combined with the pressures of the holidays to be joyous and merry and bright, can exacerbate your holiday anxiety. 


If you deal with seasonal depression, give yourself plenty of compassion through it. Remember that you can’t bypass depression or force it to go away – give yourself permission to rest, socialize less, or take a break from rigorous exercise if that’s what you need. Being willing to sit through difficult emotions and not judging yourself for them is challenging, but it can make a huge difference in your experience. Seeking mental health support can give you additional strategies to help you navigate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  

Holiday anxiety

2. Awkward, unwelcome comments or conversations

“So, are you seeing anyone?”

“Have you gained weight?”

“What are you going to do after college?”

“Why are you wearing that?”


Unwanted critiques and comments from friends and family can rush in from all sides when you’re back home. No matter what you’re dealing with in life, it doesn’t usually feel good to be the target of an endless barrage of sensitive questions.


To cope with awkward conversations or comments, try and come up with one or two responses ahead of time that help you set a boundary. You can use these responses to extract yourself from the conversation or to politely let the person know you’re not interested in discussing the topic. For example, if someone comments about your weight or appearance, you can say, “I don’t want to talk about my body right now. I’d rather talk about ______.” Then you can shift the conversation toward something more neutral or positive. 


This can be easier said than done. It’s common for big feelings of anxiety, anger, or discomfort to arise when someone says something triggering and when you’re setting a boundary. These feelings are totally okay – and they don’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.


If you feel anxious or upset, take a deep breath or an intentional pause before responding, and then do the best you can to respond calmly rather than react in a way you may later regret. If you need, excuse yourself and take time alone to recuperate. With practice, this gets easier – and in the meantime, you’re teaching your family how to treat you with respect and care. 


Family holiday anxiety

3. Old family dynamics 

When you’re home with the people you grew up with, it’s common to get sucked back into old family dynamics and behaviors – almost as though you’re a younger version of yourself again. Many of our clients describe it as feeling confusing, frustrating, and entirely out of their control. 


As an independent young adult, you may be growing and changing in ways your family can’t see. It can be painful to return home feeling like your identity is shifting and expanding, only to be put back into a box by your family.


This is such a common occurrence that there’s a term for how it feels to go back home: “holiday regression.” It results partly because change in any system is uncomfortable – including within families. Family dynamics become ingrained over many years. If you’re the youngest in your family, for instance, you might always be overlooked or considered “the baby” – even well into adulthood. Old patterns, memories, and habits often reappear when a family is all back in the same environment.


If you find yourself getting triggered by uncomfortable family dynamics, know that you’re not alone. When we work with clients who struggle with this aspect of heading home for the holidays, they often feel deep shame around their feelings. Addressing difficult underlying emotions like shame, guilt, anger, and sadness is crucial for working through holiday regression. Try journaling it out or talking about it with someone you trust. Working with a mental health professional can help you safely navigate and overcome these feelings. 


Stressful holidays at home

4. You’re out of your routine

Traveling back home when you’ve been living on your own can feel jarring. Not only do you have to deal with the madness of holiday travel, but you also have to transition out of your everyday routine and adapt to a different routine. The transition to a different environment with different people can spike stress, especially if you already deal with travel anxiety. 


To manage anxiety about being out of your routine, try bringing some of your routine with you when you go home. Think about important daily activities you engage in that make you feel calm and grounded – maybe it’s a run outside, time alone to journal or meditate, or talking to your roommate or a friend. Let your family know you’ll be taking some time to yourself every day, and then give yourself permission to set aside that time. Call someone you care about, even if it’s a quick chat. Or maybe there’s a gym you can join for a week to blow off steam. Taking time to yourself can help reduce your overall stress – and that’s always worthwhile. 

Therapy Can Help You Ease Anxiety About Going Home for the Holidays


We know going home for the holidays can be tough to manage on your own. If you want support dealing with holiday anxiety, we’re here to help. 


When you work with one of our team of licensed therapists, we’ll help you understand where your anxiety is coming from and gently work through how to cope. Together, we’ll come up with strategies to navigate difficult emotions, help you understand and heal challenging family dynamics, and find ways to keep you grounded and sane while you’re home. 


Feel free to get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can answer any questions you have, see whether we’re a good fit, and start working toward a better future today.


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