Surviving Holiday Stress: 7 Tips for Recreation Therapists

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” rarely utters the mouth of a Recreation Therapist and Activity Professional this time of year. Holiday stress actually doubles when you are planning for your clients and family. There’s so much going on, so much to do, and it seems like you won’t be able to enjoy a sigh of relief until sometime after January.

Remember: It is manageable. And, at times, enjoyable. 

Unless you are in retail, few professions can rival the amount of holiday stress felt during this time of year. So how can you get through the holidays relatively unscathed?

As someone who spent 19 holidays seasons in the profession, I certainly had my fair share of holiday stress. Working holidays, multiple parties and events throughout the season, and barely enough time to do my own holiday preparations wasn’t always easy.

There were, however, some things I learned along the way. It won’t make your holidays stress-free (is there even such a thing?) but it could lighten the load a little bit.

holiday tree picture7 Tips for Helping Holiday Stress

Every job and facility is different. I’m not even going to pretend I have all the answers. I do think, however, if you follow at least a few of these holiday stress tips, your season will be a little brighter.

Make a List…Check It Off Often

Santa is not the only one that benefits from lists. When you are in full out work overload mode, the to-do list is essential. I’m not going to lie, I am not really a to-do list person. I like to think, most of the time, I have a daily list embedded in my subconscious. When the holidays came, all bets were off. 

With so many parties, groups coming in, and, of course, your daily Recreation Therapy duties, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Start your day with a coffee, tea, energy drink, or even a nice glass of water. Write what you need done for the shift. Don’t worry about tomorrow–at least not for now–just what needs to be done immediately. 

At the end of your list, write a few bonus “to-dos”. If you get to them, great. If not, there is always tomorrow.

Being organized is crucial for time management. Don’t spin your wheels trying to figure out what to do next. Have your list nearby and keep checking items off it.

Share the Joy

No, I’m not talking about Christmas caroling or buying presents for everyone in your department. Sharing the joy, at least here, means delegating tasks.

Some Recreation Therapists and Activity Professionals work alone or with a small department. It’s easy to fall into a holiday superhero role where you feel you need to do everything. This is especially true for those type-A personalities. 

Use whatever resources you have–volunteers, staff looking for extra hours, that person you did a favor for last month, even a client or two–to help you out. Some find it difficult to ask for help, but if you want to survive all this holiday stress, delegating is the way to go.

Of course, if you are type-A you may think the extra help won’t do whatever you need the right way. This leads me to my next point.

Perfection Doesn’t Always Make Memories

You have every detail planned for the holidays down to the snowman napkins. Your to-do lists are checked off and everything is in the right place. Sure, it may have added a few gray hairs or put you in debt with the extra holiday lattes you consumed, but you created an air-tight holiday season of activities.

Is it worth all the holiday stress? If you’ve been in the profession for a few years, think back to the most memorable holiday moments. How many of them occurred when things didn’t go as planned?

An impromptu holiday game when a caroling group came in late. Dietary forgot to make a plate of cookies, so you found a snack that wasn’t exactly what everyone expected. One of your clients accidentally knocked over the table with a punch bowl and now you have sticky puddle in the middle of your party.

Yes, these things happen. And, well, they are memories that often stick–for you and your clients. In the moment, the unexpected may seem like a tidal wave of holiday stress. 

It’s how you react during these times, however, that can create lasting, fond memories. You can’t control everything, so don’t let the unexpected control you.

picture of people smiling at a partyCount the Smiles

Let’s face it: There will always be the complainers. Even if your holiday parties were perfect, someone will find something negative to say. The cookies were too sweet, the carolers sang in the wrong key, the Christmas trees didn’t have enough lights…etc. 

A few negative comments, especially when you are overtaxed with holiday stress, can be the breaking point. If you know you did your best, then be happy with that. If the criticism is constructive, use to help next year’s plans.

What if it is just complaining to complain? Nod your head and look around the room. How many of your clients are at the events smiling? Chances are, those enjoying your festivities far outnumber the complainers. Of course, you have to be aware of the silent smilers in the chaos of the holiday stress.

Make Next Year Easier

Want to get a jumpstart on next year’s holiday season? Maybe reduce some future holiday stress? Take notes now. As much as you would like to think you will remember the great ideas for improvement for next year, a lot can happen in the next 11 or 12 months.

Make a notebook or computer file of holiday plans. Whatever is easily accessible. Consider including:

  • Party layouts
  • Shopping lists and inventory for events
  • Contact info for groups, vendors, or entertainers
  • Outing ideas
  • Holiday crafts and activities
  • Ideas to help things run smoother
  • Constructive suggestions from staff, clients, and families
  • Old “to-do” lists
  • And whatever else comes to mind

Stay Balanced

Easier said than done, right? Of course you will have your share of holiday stress, but there are some things you can do to keep a healthy balance in your life. For example, if you know a holiday party is going to have some irresistible holiday treats, eat a couple light, healthy meals leading up to the party.

And remember…this is your time too. You may be working longer hours. Struggling to find time to get your holiday shopping done. Even just trying to muster the motivation to decorate your own house.

Take some time for yourself. Get a massage. Watch one of those Hallmark Christmas movies. Take a walk through your neighborhood after dark to enjoy all the Christmas lights. Create a new holiday tradition with your family. Heck, even get a little frustration out at the gym.

As Recreation Therapists, we know our free time is a chance to recharge and return to a better frame of mind. Use your limited free time during the holiday season to help you stay balanced. 

Plan a Break

At my first Recreation Therapy job, the first week in January was all about the paid time off. As I cleaned up after the New Years Eve party, my head was already thinking of the rest and relaxation the next week would bring.

Take a little time off. You deserve it. Even if it is just a long weekend. Heck, you can even plan a casual “holidays are over” party for close family and friends. 

Christmas ornamentIt’s the Holidays: You Got This…Why Not Share Some Tips?

From Recreation Therapy rookies to seasoned veterans, everyone has something to offer. Share some of your holiday stress survival tips in the comments below.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please share it on your favorite social media platforms so others in the profession could benefit from it.  Be sure to like the Facebook Real Recreation Therapist page and join the new Real Recreation Therapist Facebook group to receive updates and connect with like minded professionals. If you use Pinterest, check out my Recreation Therapy board with pins from featured articles and other resources. Your support is always appreciated. 



Thanks for being a part of The Real Recreation Therapy blog. I wish you all the best for the holiday season and well beyond.

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