Hope For The Journey

A Therapist’s Top
Holiday Movies For
Managing Stress

                              Helping with Holiday Stress


It can be hard to get into the holiday spirit when the holidays can be stressful. Think about it, the holidays are a time where you have more obligations and still the same amount of time in a day.  It may even seem like there’s less time in your day since it gets dark so early now.  Yet you still find time to find that perfect present, or visit family, or send holiday cards.  You’re constantly pouring out and giving to others, with less opportunity to replenish your own emotional cup.  


What Does Holiday Stress Do?

Trust me, as a full-time working parent I get it. I understand the urge to just take on all of the additional stuff and push through until the New Year.  However, the effects of stress will force themselves to be noticed.  Perhaps you find yourself easily irritated, or notice that your shoulders hurt.  The consequences of stress will show up in your life and they are going to take away any opportunity that you have to really enjoy this time of year and be present with those you love.  Therefore, it’s important to take some time and slow down as a way to manage the stress, before it gets to be too much.  You are worth that time.  The next thing on your to do list can wait.



How Can Movies Help Lower Holiday Stress?

One of my favorite ways to keep the stress at bay and actually enjoy the holiday season is to snuggle up and watch holiday movies!  I find that spending some time watching a feel-good movie lets me escape for a moment. Taking that time for myself can actually make me feel better overall. Movies can also provide some important lessons and reminders to help us manage our stress. So, in this way, they can be a great way to change my mindset. Plus, living in Texas, we don’t get to enjoy traditional snowy Christmas weather.  And at least with movies, I can still watch some snowfall, even if it’s not from outside my window.  


Here is a list of my top holiday movies for managing stress!  Feel free to share your opinion and some of your favorites in the comments. 

  1. Manage Depression and Social Anxiety with Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (preferably the live action version). 


As a therapist, I’m drawn to how the Grinch handles his symptoms of depression and social anxiety.  The Grinch was bullied as a child and so he struggles to trust others.  He is angry and stays far away from others for the duration of the movie.  He initially thinks that stealing Christmas will cause him to feel better.  Come to find out, anger was the secondary emotion that was protecting him from the underlying hurt that he felt.  Cindy Lou Who provides unconditional acceptance and helps the Grinch to see the good in himself.   


  1. Practice Mindfulness with ELF


Will Ferrell reminds us all of the magic of this season.  His display of childlike innocence and wonder remains even as life continuously throws him challenges. Isn’t it a great reminder that our focus can so dramatically impact our mood? 


Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment…without judgment. It’s soaking up the pleasure of a candy cane on your tongue or taking a second to really enjoy the sound of your children laughing or the smell of cookies baking. No matter what stressors you may encounter in your day-to-day, if you focus on the small things that bring you joy, you will capture some of the magic of the season just like in Elf. 


  1. Manage Grief with Almost Christmas


Four adult children (and their families) come together to visit their father for Christmas for the first time since the death of their mother.  Initially, the characters are isolated in their own grief.  This is an acknowledgement that it’s hard to connect with others when we’re feeling a loss.  It’s easier for us to lash out in anger or stay in denial.  However, once we allow others in, the knowledge that we’re not alone can be incredibly healing.  It makes the burden of grief just a little bit easier to carry.


Another way to manage grief is by doing something that honors the person who passed.  The widower in this movie attempts to duplicate his wife’s famous recipes as a tribute to her and a way to keep her memory alive.  


  1. Set Healthy Boundaries with Four Christmases


The movie is relatable for any couple who feels pressured to see both partners’ family during the holidays.  Rather than sticking to their original plan of spending the holidays just the two of them- Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon feel obligated to go to each of their parents’ house on Christmas.  That’s four houses in one day!  Talk about going above and beyond to make others happy.  Their respective families bring up conversation topics that the couple had not yet discussed.  It causes some overall relationship strain and stresses out both individuals.


Preparation is key to being able to set effective boundaries in the moment!  If you’re at a holiday gathering and something is brought up that you don’t want to talk about, how could you handle it?  Or if you feel as though you have hit your social limit and you would like to leave, how do you communicate that?


Some examples are:

  • “I do not feel comfortable talking about that, let’s talk about something else.”
  • “Thank you so much for inviting us/me; however, I am tired and it’s time for us to go home.”
  • “We will be spending Christmas day with “insert partner here” family this year. Is there another time that we can get together during the holiday season?” 
  • “Thank you for your advice, however, we’ve decided to do it this way.”


Healthy boundaries are assertive, not aggressive.  They allow you to stand up for yourself and communicate your needs without tearing down another person.  Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable at first and that’s normal.  If someone becomes offended because of boundaries that you set, that is on them, not you.  You are not responsible for other peoples’ feelings and responses.  


  1. Find Balance as a Parent with Christmas with the Kranks


This is a light-hearted comedy that highlights the never-ending parental struggle of trying to do something for yourself while also wanting to put your children and their desires first.  Two empty nesters quickly change their holiday plans and sacrifice a holiday cruise when they find out that their adult daughter wants to come home for Christmas.  The parents display different emotional responses to the sudden change in plans. 


When transitions happen (children growing up) it can be difficult to create and adjust to new traditions.  It can also feel weird (but normal!) to remember that you have wants and needs that may not involve your children.  


  1. Escape Perfectionism with Jingle All The Way


Jingle All The Way highlights the relatable struggle that parents can go through when they try to make sure that their children have the “perfect” holiday.  A dad finds himself in a stressful situation when all the stores are sold out of the highly sought after toy that his son wants for Christmas.  


You may feel like your worth as a parent rides on whether or not you can provide certain presents for your children.  Your time and attention are much more important, valuable gifts.


  1. Let Go of Comparing with It’s a Wonderful Life


Comparing your life to the lives of others is an urge that often comes at the price of your own mental well-being. When you compare yourself to others, oftentimes you end up feeling inadequate and potentially even depressed and anxious.  This is the case with the main character in this classic movie; George is constantly comparing himself to his boss, brother, and neighbors.  When certain aspects of his life does not match up to theirs, he feels so much like a failure that he contemplates suicide.  When he reflects further (with the help of a guardian angel) on his life, he comes to realize that his life and choices created much more of a positive impact than he realized. 


This is a reminder that the world would not be a better place without you.  You may not always know the positive impact that you have on others.  


Some alternative things to focus on when you find yourself comparing your life to others:


  • Identify two things in the moment that you’re thankful for. 
  • Focus on your strengths- even write them down. 
  • Try to compete with yourself instead of others. Where were you at a year ago as compared to now?
  • Set boundaries around how much time you spend on social media


  1. Choose Flexibility with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation


Family chaos ensues despite the best efforts to have  a “perfect holiday.”  Sometimes we need a reminder that the holidays are the perfect time to adjust our priorities and accept that things may not go according to plan. 


Controlling the outcome of things helps us to feel safe and secure.  Humans thrive on structure and predictability.  However, when different family members get together over the holidays, there are often several moving parts and it’s hard to control everything externally.  What are some things that you could choose to be flexible about this holiday season?  


  1. Be Authentically You with A Christmas Story


People are going to question you and your abilities throughout your life, just like Ralphie is questioned by the bully. This does not mean that you need to question yourself.  You are the expert in your life and on your decisions.  The holidays and the new year are a perfect time to reconnect not only with friends and family-but with yourself and your values. 


What are some passions that you have that you’d like to pursue?


  1. Practice Persistence with Home Alone


Is this really a Christmas movie?  I think so but I’ve heard on-going debates that argue otherwise. Whether you count it as a Christmas movie or not, though, Home Alone is definitely a great demonstration of persistence. Persistence can be defined as the act of continuing onward despite difficulty or opposition. Young Kevin is persistent in his pursuit against two burglars when he is accidentally left home alone. When he is at his lowest, he seeks out support in the form of his neighbor even though this feels scary. When he is discouraged, he uses his creativity to fight his way to safety against overwhelming odds. 


As we reach the end of the year, we might reflect on how we overcame barriers that we were met with.  Healthy coping skills, positive social support, and self-compassion are all things that help us to persist through stressful times and manage our difficult emotions. What do you use to help you get through tough times?  


Do you have another holiday favorite that has taught you a great lesson in managing stress? If so, share your thoughts in the comments! And of course, if you need a little more help to manage your stress this holiday season, please reach out for help. 

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