How to Plan Ahead to Avoid Holiday Stressors

a list to plan ahead for the holidays

There’s quite a lot of things we try to plan ahead for the holidays. And in the rush of it all, we often forget to think about ourselves too. Do you get anxious and stressed during the holidays? Are you often triggered during social gatherings? Worrying about trying to make everything perfect for everyone around you? This season, make use of the tips below to preserve your mental health and experience the magic of the holidays.

The end of the year is a highly anticipated time for many. We usually get to be together with family and indulge in cozy festive gatherings and fun activities. For some of us, however, the end of December isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. This is often because spending prolonged time with family can trigger attachment issues. Yet, even if you have an insecure attachment style, with awareness and planning, you too can experience the holiday magic.

Girl, sad during the holidays due to social stressors

The holiday season is filled with the expectation to come together, socialize, and get everyone the ‘perfect’ gifts. For everyone – even secure attachers – these factors can be fraught with stress, anxiety, and, in some cases, even fear. For insecure attachers, it can feel even more overwhelming to be with their loved ones for protracted periods of time. Certain family members may provoke their attachment traits by saying the wrong thing or behaving selfishly.

Nevertheless, even if you have an insecure attachment style, it’s possible to prevent emotional distress. You can learn to understand and manage your triggers before they lead to significant stress and conflicts.

This article contains all you need to know about managing your attachment style and maintaining holiday magic, including:
  • What a holiday mental health plan is
  • Tips for making a holiday plan that works for all insecure attachment styles
  • Attachment style-specific tips for creating a holiday plan

What is a Holiday Mental Health Plan?

A holiday plan is a pre-prepared list of strategies for managing your attachment style and its triggers during the festive season. Your plan should be personal to you and rooted in your values.

However, it may be necessary to know your attachment style to fully understand why other people’s actions affect you in certain ways.

If you do not know your attachment style, you can take our free attachment style quiz here.

The following are some tips for creating a holiday plan that may be useful for all insecure attachment styles. (Don’t worry – we will discuss attachment style-specific strategies further on in this article.)

Holiday Tips All Insecure Attachers Can Use to Plan Ahead

1. Think about your triggers from previous holidays

To try and capture the magic of the holidays this year, make a note of the people/events/times that have aggravated your attachment traits and ruined the festive feeling for you over past seasons. Think back as far as you can. You might start to notice certain patterns develop. 

Girl experiencing emotional triggers during the holidays

For example, an avoidant attacher might get into arguments with family members over pushing for too much time together. Or an anxious attacher may put themselves under pressure to please every family member – even though it’s an impossible task. Or perhaps a disorganized attacher might notice that they tend to be most reactive around certain people.

If you start to detect a pattern, write down the situations (including specific people, places, and times) that might have activated attachment insecurities in the past. Reflecting on these notes, try to figure out how and when such situations might reoccur this holiday season. Anticipating the environments in which you might struggle with attachment-related issues could help you to avoid those moments or to handle them better – simply due to being mentally prepared.

Once you have done so, it’s time to figure out strategies that will calm your triggers. This could prevent you from becoming anxious or distressed and mitigate what would have previously been a significant conflict. You could utilize the following techniques as soothing strategies:

2. Find a secure base

People with a secure attachment style usually contribute to and elevate the festive mood. They are capable of providing consistency, warmth, and reassurance to others. If you are an insecure attacher, however, the holidays may create stressful and anxious feelings for you. 

Seeing as approximately two-thirds of the population are secure attachers, the chances are that you know someone securely attached. This person might be a partner, a friend, or an extended family member. They could adopt the role of a secure base for you during the holidays.

Plan ahead and ask your secure base if you may contact them for a call or a meet. Even better, you could bring your secure base with you to your holiday gatherings – if possible.

3. Engage in meaningful rituals

plan ahead special holiday rituals

On the one hand, the holiday season is associated with positive well-being and overall life satisfaction. On the other hand, it might also trigger negative affect and poor emotional family climate. However, participating in seasonal rituals increases festive mood, positive well-being, and perceived social impact. For some of us, these rituals may already be well-ingrained in our December celebrations. Others, however, might find it helpful to create new ones for personal reasons.

For example, you could copy the Icelandic ritual of exchanging books on Christmas Eve. You could spend the evening reading your new hauls in front of the fire. Alternatively, you could go for a Christmas morning walk in festive pajamas. You could even join the droves of others who choose to promote their feelings of positivity by “dipping” in freezing bodies of water on Christmas day. How meaningful rituals usually depends on personal values; therefore it is important to create ones that are significant to you. 

Unfortunately, what may have previously been a well-established ritual may no longer be possible due to Coronavirus restrictions. However, sometimes what’s different can make the season special. You could try to figure out a way of making the most of this season in a way that works for you. It might be an annual Zoom call with friends who live abroad, a film that you watch with a close loved one, or a baking ritual for making festive gifts. 

Attachment Style-Specific Strategies to Plan Ahead for the Holidays

I. Tips for People with Avoidant Attachment Style

An avoidant attacher may feel overwhelmed by the amount of togetherness and lack of personal space that tends to accompany the holiday season. Therefore, a holiday plan for someone with this style may require pre-planning an escape route from the bustle of activities. Doing so might mean thinking of reasons to excuse yourself from your family to prevent them from becoming offended. It could be as simple as needing to take a phone call, saying that you agreed to meet up with someone for a walk (even if you plan to do so by yourself), or going for a coffee with your secure base. 

On the other hand, as an avoidant attacher, you may benefit from immersing yourself more in the holiday spirit. You might end up feeling included and valued instead of permanently on the edge of the excitement, or fending off comments about not trying to be involved.

Therefore, you might benefit from including the following actions in your holiday plan:
plan ahead Christmas presents to avoid stress
  • Think about gift-giving in advance instead of leaving it until the last minute. This practice could reduce stress for you and make the gift-receiver feel more valued. Consider things that they enjoy or elements about their life that they’ve told you about in the past. You could also ask someone close to them for advice.
  • Make a list of pre-planned questions to ask your family members. Everyone enjoys feeling appreciated, and you will come across as interested in their life.
  • Practice maintaining comfortable eye contact and relaxed body language. Remember, your presence alone is often a gift to your family, so do your best not to focus on your discomfort. The holiday season is temporary, and you can return to your established boundaries in the New Year.

II. Tips for People with Anxious Attachment Style

An individual with the anxious attachment style may be hyperaware of their family member’s needs. Therefore, they typically stress about buying the perfect presents, catering to everyone’s whims, and doing their best to make the holidays special for everyone. However, they might do so to the detriment of their own needs. 

If you have an anxious attachment style, it may be necessary to factor some self-care activities into your holiday plan. Such activities include actions like meditation, going out to meet friends, delegating some of the cooking and chores, and meeting your secure base for a cathartic chat. Even though the anxious attacher is the “perfect” festive host, you may risk becoming emotionally drained if you don’t remember to take care of yourself.

Including the following actions in your holiday plan could help protect you from burnout over the festive season:
plan ahead for the holidays: things to do more and less of this year
  • Regularly remind yourself that your innate threat detection system is over-sensitive – your friends and family experience a range of emotions every day that have absolutely nothing to do with you. So give yourself a break and stop over-analyzing their every facial expression and tone of voice for something you may have done wrong.
  • Prioritize your routine – as an anxious attacher, you may want to make the holiday season perfect for everyone. But nobody can be perfect all the time, and there’s only a certain amount of hours in a day. Make a list of things that you need to do and create a hierarchy of the ones that are most important. Stick to this list, and you’ll not only feel less stressed, but you’ll likely be more productive too.
  • Make a list of things that make you feel happy and aim to do at least one of them a day – taking time for yourself can prevent you from feeling burnt-out and taken advantage of during the holiday season.

III. Tips for People with Disorganized Attachment Style

Capturing the magic of the winter holidays can be particularly difficult for someone with a disorganized attachment style – especially if they spend it with their family of origin. A disorganized attacher may also experience conflicted feelings during the festive season; they might both desire to please their family members, yet experience painful triggers around them. Such triggers may include family members drinking alcohol to excess, major conflicts or arguments, or feeling forced to spend time with people who make them uncomfortable. 

If you have a disorganized attachment style, you could factor in emotion-regulating actions into your holiday plan. Such actions may include: staying at a neutral location such as a hotel so that you can leave a stressful environment behind, taking your secure base to your family gatherings, or simply choosing to only see family members that don’t trigger your attachment traits (if such members exist). It is important that you enjoy the holiday season just as much as anyone else, so do what you need to do to restore joy.

Including actions such as the following can prevent a disorganized attacher from feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season:
Plan ahead an escape route from festive gatherings to deal with social anxiety
  • Make a reminder to focus on being present in the moment rather than worrying about the worst-case scenario – even if something bad does happen, you’ve handled it before, so you can get through it again. This way, you can focus your energy on enjoying other people’s company and the magic of the festive season.
  • Write down a detailed escape plan – when you recognize that something is triggering your attachment style, it may be best to remove yourself from the situation entirely. Create a list of places you could go, trusted people you could contact, and comforting activities you could engage in.
  • Practice being consistent in how you react to others – making a note of your anxious thoughts and feelings in the lead-up to the holiday season can help you recognize how they affect your responses to others. To get the most out of the holidays, you could use calming activities such as mindful breathing to not be overly reactive to what others say or do. What’s more, if the situation becomes too much for you, then you could enact your escape plan. 


plan ahead to prioritize mental health during the festive season

This holiday season, recapture the holiday magic and make your mental health a priority by putting some of these Holiday Mental Health Plan tips into action – and make sure to let us know which ones work best for you. If you would like to learn more about how the different attachment styles develop and their typical triggers, then our previous blog posts on anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure attachment can help.

Lastly, you deserve to enjoy the festive season as much as everyone else, so always try to remember that you have absolutely zero obligations to anyone – including family members – if it means that you have to sacrifice your emotional well-being.

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