Holiday Stress


As the holiday season approaches, many of us begin to look forward to spending time with family and friends, and to sharing in the joys of the season. However, for people who have been exposed to a traumatic event, the holiday season may bring up negative feelings. Especially at this time of year, thinking about loved ones who have died can be painful—particularly for those who have recently lost someone.

Even for people who have not been exposed to trauma, the holidays can be a stressful time. Besides the stressors of buying gifts, travel expenses and hassles, and family interactions, the short days and lack of sunlight in winter can trigger bouts of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Findings from a 2008 poll on holiday stress conducted by the American Psychological Association, revealed that eight out of ten Americans anticipated stress during the holiday season. In the APA's 2017 Stress in America survey it was found that 27 percent of Americans attribute their stress to worry about their ability to pay for life's essentials and 35 percent attributed stress to the economy.

To help people cope with grief, stress, and depression during the holiday season, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) offers the following resources for educators, families, and mental health professionals.

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Featured NCTSN Resources

Child Traumatic Grief

Child Traumatic Grief Educational Materials
Presents an overview of childhood traumatic grief (which may occur following a death of someone important to the child when the child perceives the experience as traumatic). Includes descriptions of normal grief and the grieving process. These materials are available for download either as a complete package (which contains information for four audiences: parents, pediatricians and nurses, school personnel, and the news media) or as individual documents:

Coping with Unconfirmed Death: Tips for Caregivers of Children and Teens (2009) (PDF)
Offers caregivers advice on helping children deal with the complex emotions that arise when the death of family member or other important person in a child's life is suspected, but not confirmed.

NCTSN Child Traumatic Grief Speaker Series: Holidays, Celebrations and Traumatically Bereaved Children (2009)
Discusses ways that holidays and other dates that are meaningful to individuals and/or the general public can serve as reminders of trauma and/or grief. Also offers ways that parents, teachers, and other adults can support children who have traumatic stress.

Sibling Death and Childhood Traumatic Grief: Information for Families (2009) (PDF)
Provides a definition of child traumatic grief (CTG), typical grief reactions to a sibling death and losing a child, differences between grief and CTG, tips for recovery, and much more. Includes a list of age-appropriate books for children and teens who are dealing with the loss of a sibling. 

Traumatic Grief in Military Children: Information for Educators (2008) (PDF)
Provides culturally competent materials for helping educators to better serve military children suffering from traumatic grief.

Traumatic Grief in Military Children: Information for Families (2008) (PDF)
Offers guidance for families with children who have lost a loved one that was in the military.

Traumatic Grief in Military Children: Information for Medical Providers (2008) (PDF)
Provides culturally competent materials for medical professionals about how to better serve military children who are experiencing traumatic grief.

Resources on Economic Stress

Coping in Hard Times: Fact Sheet for Parents (2011) (PDF)
Helps parents understand how difficult financial situations can affect the entire family and offers ways to cope.

Coping in Hard Times: Fact Sheet for School Staff—Teachers, Counselors, Administrators, Support Staff (2011) (PDF)
Offers advice on dealing with difficult financial situations experienced by school personnel and students’ families.

Coping in Hard Times: Fact Sheet for Youth—High School and College Age (2011) (PDF)
Offers advice to teens and young adults on dealing with their parents’ difficult financial situations and their own inability to find a job.

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For Educators



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For Families

American Psychological Association Help Center

Cleveland Clinic

Family Services of Ottawa

  • Celebrating the Holidays without Family Members (PDF)
    Newsletter that offers tips for coping with being alone for the holidays including suggestions for activities to do beforehand and ways to connect with others; also provides online resources.

Mayo Clinic

Mental Health America


Psychology Today

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For Mental Health Professionals

Psychology Today

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