Holiday Cheer vs. Holiday Fear: How to Go Above the Overwhelm

While some look forward to the holidays as their best-of-times, in reality for many, they can stir up some worst-of-time-emotions; stemming from difficult family dynamics to financial strain, from missing loved ones to complete schedule and decision-making overload. We are all faced with a myriad of challenging life circumstances, enough to make anyone feel anxious, insecure or overwhelmed. The truth is, we are not here to simply live a life of stillness and stagnation. To taste real satisfaction and freedom, we are here to overcome, grow and transform. So how do we deal best with times of great stress and stay connected to joy and peace along the way?

Regardless of the external stressors, we all possess an essential gift that offers us the ultimate in control — How We Respond Is Up To Us.  A dream I recently had about a teacher and his student actually helped me as my own holiday anxiety began to erupt over Thanksgiving. The teacher said to the student: Climb the ladder. That's all you need to do. Get yourself up to the next rung. I found great peace in the simplicity of our task, which is all about the power of our consciousness.  It’s a paradox really. We need to first LIFT OURSELVES ABOVE any stressful or conflictual situation to then invest fully in that situation for the best outcome. As Rav Ashlag so beautifully teaches us, “If you have an attic filled with goodly matters, you need only a ladder to climb it, and all the abundance of the world is in your hands.”


Here are some suggested practices to GO ABOVE stress and overwhelm into a world of abundance — for the holidays and every day.


Overwhelm often comes from “mind stacking,” which I define as our human tendency to pile future responsibilities and unresolved matters, or past hurt/anger, on top of one another. Mind stacking can quickly overload our nervous system and rocket boost us right out of the present moment. The instant we disconnect from the present, we fall down the ladder and leave ourselves vulnerable to stress, self-doubt, and negative thoughts.

To take it a little deeper, Rav Ashlag describes time like a conveyer belt with baskets moving along in front of us. Each basket is a moment and the only basket we can effectively impact is the one right in front of us.   When we are busy with the baskets (moments) not yet here or the ones long gone, the current basket goes by empty — and this emptiness becomes our future, leaving us vulnerable to anxiety, lack, and negative thoughts. Basically, we have everything to gain by connecting to the present moment which allows us to enjoy:

  • less stress and negative thoughts
  • less judging of ourselves and thereby less anger
  • increased creativity, motivation and efficiency
  • help with conflict in our relationships, friendships and conversations
  • vision to see the big picture


Always remember: You Deserve to Choose You. Allow yourself to live according to your core values and explore what works best for you during the holidays.  Not to mean being completely inflexible, but be honest with yourself regarding the limits you need to set to keep yourself above the overwhelm and into abundance.  This might mean leaving early, coming late. Or it could mean not going to something at all. Be prepared others might not like your decisions.  An old, dear friend, Dr. Samantha St. Julian, once said, “I set good boundaries so that I can be more loving.”

Setting boundaries also includes adjusting your own expectations of yourself to maintain your joy.  This might mean saying NO, to yourself, like when it comes to baking something homemade if this means exhausting you, or buying that new dress if you don’t have time or money. Setting boundaries within yourself might mean choosing to take care of your body over that last detail unfinished. Breathe through what’s hard to let go of. Try delegating and asking for more help. For whatever is out of your comfort zone in setting brave boundaries, celebrate the transformation that will take you up the ladder.


I've learned over the years to do my best not to rush through a stressful or painful life experience out of a growing trust that each low or challenge is the building block for the next rising in my journey.  There is tremendous value in our challenging times, and while they can certainly be painful, the difficulty holds the concealed energy we need to climb up the next rung of our ladder of abundance.  A wide variety of fears often lay hidden beneath our overwhelm in many circumstances, and certainly so during the holidays. If we really allow ourselves the permission and courage to go digging, we might hear some disturbing self-talk.  In her book, Fear Is Not An Option, Monica Berg lays out simple tools and exercises for helping us get to know our fears. She teaches, "When you shed Light on your fears, you can release them."


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) coined this term for the preparation we do ahead of a potentially emotionally charged circumstance or person in our life. Particularly when about to face difficult family encounters that evoke fear, ask yourself, “What are my tools for resilience, for being emotionally self-contained and less influenced by others or outside stress?” The more we prepare emotionally in advance for the potential triggers, the more empowered and in control we will feel and the less we put ourselves at risk for falling down the ladder and into the drama. Tips 1, 2 and 3 above are examples of resources, but here are some other ways to help you Go Above the potential triggers of family dynamics or holiday stress:

  • Journal before a major family event - listening within helps us feel connected to ourself and less dependent on others
  • Identify your negative self-talk and next to each, create an affirmation — something you’d say to a friend instead of the negative thought.  Notice how your body feels as you read and meditate on the more elevated thought.  “You are wherever your thoughts are. Make sure your thoughts are where you want to be.” Nachman of Breslev
  • Envision ahead of time how you want to be so that you will feel good in your own skin. The visioning helps us manifest.
  • Identify what you have control over and don’t put energy into what you do not. 
  • Fortify yourself by connecting with your friends, counselor, and/or spiritual teacher ahead of time.
  • Practice self-compassion and radical acceptance.  It’s a muscle to build, not something we can expect to show up strong on game day without practice.

*In the introduction to his commentary on The Book of Zohar, Rav Ashlag explained why he called it The Sulam (Ladder).