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Holiday Stress (part 3)

Well, if you are reading this, then you have made it this far - You have survived Thanksgiving and most of the holiday season. We are now in the final days, the final pressures of the holidays, and in just a few days Christmas Day will arrive (and go) and we will enter the last week of the (old) year.

The pressures, the stress, and the chaos has likely been observed. You may have noticed it driving down the road, entering your local shopping center (if you dared), and even in direct communication with others.

But there may have been another observation you have made, one that has also likely led to your decision to even read these past 3 blog articles (part1 | part2) in the first place - you have noticed that some people handle stress much better (or worse). This leads us to the final question: Why Do Some People Manage Stress Better Than Others?

Individual Differences

I want to first acknowledge that there are certainly biological, genetic, developmental, and personality factors that play a role with our ability to manage stress. However, whether I give you the long or the short version, we will ultimately end in the same place. I am a firm believer (and my therapy-style agrees) that it is often helpful to focus time/energy on activity/things that we can change and skills that we can develop - so I opt to give you the short version...

There is increasing amounts of research focused on stress, trauma, and coping. Some of this has been directly tested on humans, and even animal subjects, it is not always conclusive, but every year we seem to get closer to understanding the brain in this respect. Researchers feel that specific areas (Amygdala and its association with the prefrontal cortex) is key to our individual responses to stress, unfortunately, whether we have an ability to do anything about it depends on who you ask, the research study, the scenario, the individual. The research to date, presents the common conclusion: can we change our response to stress? yes, no, maybe... we're not sure.

See, not really helpful.

Now, let's take a different approach to this idea - one that maybe could be seen as a little more helpful and even underlines some of the available therapies**.

What do people who handle stress with greater ease possess? Great question! To answer this, let first introduce a new (old) term: Resilience.


You have likely heard of this word or one of its variants, but if not, Resilience is generally defined as "the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress." Thanks Merriam-Webster, but for the rest of us more human types... Resilience is an ability to respond effectively to the stresses and challenges that occur in all of our lives from time to time.

In further understanding our ability to be resilient, it is important to understand that there are a set of resources (termed Resilience Resources) that we all possess in varying amounts and we have the ability to increase and strengthen these available resources. Minor day-to-day hassles and more major stressors/traumas cause demand on our Resilience Resources. Thus, the more available these resources are, the more resilient we are to increasing amounts of stress.

The 3 major types of resilience resources include: Cognitive Resources, Physiological Resources, and Social/Environmental Resources.

  • Cognitive Resources - These resources include our knowledge, beliefs, understanding, self-talk (negative & positive), and problem-solving skills.

  • Physiological Resources - These resources can include aspects of genetics and other inherited aspects we have little control over, but these also includes aspects that modify our body's response to stress (e.g. fight-or-flight response). Relaxation skills, exercise, nutrition, and sleep are aspects we have some control over.

  • Social/Environmental Resources - These include the social supports around us (friends, family, coworkers, peers, and professional supports) and the environment we spend our time in. [See below]

So, now understanding this, one answer to the question is that others who handle stress well likely have these resources cultivated and more readily available.

Now take a moment to reflect on this: Of these 3 areas, is there one for yourself that you could see needing further development?

Social Support

I've decided to pull out this above mentioned topic and give it further highlight. I strongly believe that for most people, social support can be one of the greatest resources during moments of high stress, especially in instances where the stress may be short-lived (episodic), or a challenge for our cognitive resources alone.

When I have heard others comment and inquire about "surviving" periods of high stress I often think of my own experiences with stress, and a common thought that arises is grad school. If you ask any graduate how they survived ______ (insert: grad school, finals, thesis/dissertation), in their top 3 answers you will likely hear a reference to Coffee, a facetious reference to booze, and invariably, a genuine reference to their social support network (including friends, peers, and significant others).

This same notion is true for many other stressors and traumas; the individual's social network is almost always referenced as a significant source of support. Enough cannot be said about the people you keep close as it has been shown that this social support buffers the effects of stress.


Over the past 3 posts, I have aimed to provide some insight and knowledge on a general basis**, with the hope that it has empowered you the reader to look at areas of your own life that you may be able to strengthen. The holidays can be a time of great stress, pain, and even sadness for some. In understanding how and why the holidays can bring about this stress, as well as understanding the aspects of your own life you could strengthen to become more resilient towards this stress, I hope that you may find yourself enjoying future holidays to their fullest potential.

As the world continues to spin, ever-changing, there will undoubtedly be new issues and concerns to address, but understand that there are some constants. The holidays come at the same time every year, and if you are someone who struggles with this stress, it always helps to be proactive. Plan ahead, and feel free to reach out to a therapist for assistance before the stress becomes unbearable. Psychologists and counselors are very approachable and we are more than willing to help if you give us the opportunity to work with you.

I wish you and those close to you a very happy and merry holiday season. From Miles Psychological Services, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy December 25th, and a prosperous New Year!

Thanks again for reading my blog!

~ Dr. Miles

** As always, this information is not intended to constitute a therapeutic relationship or advice, nor should it replace in-person therapy. I welcome those interested to contact me for additional support and guidance.

Hi All, I have decided to turn on the comments section for this post. I'm interested in gaining some feedback on this holiday stress series, as well as hearing what other topics you might be interested in reading. I have considered an 'Ask a Therapist' series, or even a post about what therapy is really like. But I'm most interested in hearing from everyone so that ongoing posts are relevant and include engaging content. I ask that you don't include your name in the post, but more important please understand that confidentiality is NOT guaranteed or implied via this comments section.

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