Developing Holiday Resilience

In looking up resources on how to be resilient in the face of stress I found an article that discusses five characteristics that are common to resilient people: being positive, focused, flexible, organized, proactive.  (An article by Karen S. Dickason, LCSW, CEAP © 2006 Achieve Solutions)  Resiliency is the ability to withstand and to recover from adversity. 

While none of these characteristics are earth shattering, I think they are helpful reminders especially when the end of the year seems to bring on much stress.  I can think of many a holiday occasion when I have regretted my actions, conversations or attitude.  I kick myself for not acting with grace under pressure.  "Next year...", I declare.  The spirit may be willing but my flesh is weak. The characteristics for learning to be resilient can help us learn to change and adapt so that we can withstand adversity, anxiety and stress.  

The holiday season can trigger all kinds of adversity- whether that adversity comes from relationships, financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical trials. The subsequent tips in these five areas are exercises to practice in order to develop resilience in our own lives.  Just like some people enjoy running while others prefer swimming, these are not absolutes in developing resilience and ability to handle stress.  Rather they are ideas that might help spur you on to think of something that works for you as you embrace these five characteristics.  The more one practices, the better in handling the variety of stress we find in our lives. 


  • Concentrate on becoming better at a new task rather than perfecting it.

  • Practice using positive “self-talk” phrases, such as “this too shall pass” or “I will only ask myself to do the best I can rather than never to make any mistakes.”

  • During the holiday season, think about why you are doing what you are doing rather than striving to achieve the "perfect" holiday gathering.

  • Keep a gratitude journal this season. Begin or end each day with three statements of gratitude.  Some days you might only be able to enter  " grateful we didn't have a heated discussion over the way the turkey was cooked."  Keep a list of daily accomplishments- no matter how small. 


  • Visualize yourself as you would like to be  (either this holiday season or next year). Put a sign or picture on your bathroom mirror or desk to remind you of your vision. (e.g. enjoy the hubbub during the holidays, not to fight it, be more gracious, etc.)

  • Set specific short-, medium- and long-range goals for yourself relating to your change initiative. (e.g. will be cordial to Uncle Grumpy at the family dinner, will no longer play the comparison game with family members, will not be part of Facebook highlights of the perfect Christmas.) Base your goals firmly on your personal values.

  • Ask someone you trust to review your goals and give you feedback and suggestions on how you can further target the steps needed for successfully making the transition through the change. (Perhaps another family member has learned to handle Uncle Grumpy.  Ask what worked for him/her)

  • For this holiday season, focus on one aspect of the season- perhaps relationships.  If you find yourself in the midst of a change this season (and some type of adversity) and your family doesn't understand what you are doing, keep affirming and reminding yourself of your successes towards your goal. 


  • Learn to see another side to an issue. Swap sides in a discussion where you disagree with someone—you argue their side and ask them to argue your side. (might be a way to preemptively navigate the annual political discussion at the holiday table)

  • Put yourself into situations where you need to be flexible.  (e.g. Drive a new and unfamiliar route to a store or a friend’s house. Make note of what you see that’s different from your usual route.)

  • Change one aspect of your holiday- e.g. try a new Thanksgiving recipe, incorporate a new tradition- possibly from a "new" member of your extended family or a friend or neighbor.


  • Purchase and use a day planner.  Use it to keep track of your personal and work goals. 

  • Take a few moments to think through and list the key steps you need to take to accomplish a task before you tackle it. (e.g. If you are the one hosting a holiday dinner, start writing out a to-do list of all that you need to do each day before the big day.  Delegate where you can)

  • Put pieces of paperwork and important information in clearly marked files and put them in an accessible place. Good time to regroup especially as the year ends.  Start 2018 with organized tax info, health and medical records, etc.

  • Break down a problem, any problem, into smaller pieces—then tackle the easiest piece first. 


  • Develop plans for managing the worst-case scenario that might result from the change. (Will some of the family be upset and leave the table if you change the menu?)

  • Practice assessing the risks about a change initiative by listing all of the pros and cons you can think of. Ask yourself: What if...?

  • For the holiday season, if you anticipate how family members react (based on past history), try to reorganize or control the scenario.  (e.g. two family members do not get along- have them visit at separate occasions)

  • Plan as best you can for the holidays- shopping, card writing, meal planning, parties, holiday shows and concerts- do as much as you can a head of time and in small increments.   If things are hectic this year, cut out one or two events.  There is no grade or requisite that you have to do any of these things.  You can still celebrate the holidays without any of the hoopla and self-imposed deadlines. 

What about you?  Have you ever employed any of these tactics or characteristics in building resiliency?  How did it work out?  Are you anxious and stressed about the holidays?  What steps can you take this year to reduce that stress?  How can you adapt to changes so that you can no only survive but thrive during this season?