WASHINGTON — U.S. adults are feeling joyous but overwhelmed this holiday season, as nearly nine in 10 (89%) say that concerns such as not having enough money, missing loved ones and anticipating family conflict cause them stress at this time of year, according to the results of a new poll by the American Psychological Association.

While nearly half of U.S. adults (49%) would describe their stress levels during the traditional U.S. holiday season between November and January as “moderate,” around two in five (41%) said their stress increases during this time compared with other points in the year. While stress appears to be common at this time of year, 43% said that the stress of the holidays interferes with their ability to enjoy them and 36% said the holidays feel like a competition.

“The holiday season can be both a happy and stressful time of year in part due to expectations to spend time with family and friends, navigate family conflicts and uphold important traditions,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer. “At this hectic time of year, it is important that people take care of their mental health, especially in communities whose members feel disproportionately burdened or excluded from what is traditionally considered the holiday season.”

The survey was conducted among 2,061 adults by The Harris Poll between Nov. 14 and 16, 2023.

Financial concerns were most often cited as a cause of stress during the holidays, with 58% of U.S. adults saying that spending too much or not having enough money to spend causes them stress. This was followed by finding the right gifts (40%) and the stress of missing family or loved ones during the holidays (38%). Households earning under $50K annually especially feel under pressure at this time of year and were more likely to rate their stress levels as high compared with households earning more than $100K annually (24% vs. 18%, respectively).

Those who celebrate traditionally Jewish or other non-Christian religious holidays reported additional sources of stress during these months. Roughly one in five adults who celebrate traditionally Jewish holidays (23%) and those who celebrate other non-Christian holidays (20%) said they experience stress because the holiday season doesn’t reflect their culture, religion or traditions, compared with 7% of adults who celebrate traditionally Christian holidays. They also said they do not feel a part of what is considered “the holiday season” in the U.S. (45% of those celebrating Jewish holidays and 57% other non-Christian holidays vs. 29% Christian holidays) and that they worry they may be discriminated against for their religion, traditions or culture at this time of year (42% and 55% vs. 13%, respectively).

The holiday season sparks conflicting feelings as over two in five U.S. adults (43%) would use both positive and negative words to describe the holidays, and 72% agree that the holiday season can feel bittersweet. Four in five adults (80%) would describe the holidays in positive terms such as fun (50%), joyous (49%), or exciting (45%), while 63% would use negative words such as stressful (40%), overwhelming or exhausting (34% each).

To manage the stress of the holiday season, nearly nine in 10 adults who reported experiencing stress at this time (88%) said they have coping mechanisms that help them handle it. A majority of adults who experience stress (70%) said they are comfortable talking with others about their stress during this time—although only 41% said they actually do so—while others focus on strategies such as managing their expectations (38%), reminding themselves that the season will pass (35%) or volunteering to help others (16%).

Fewer adults said they turn to negative or potentially harmful coping mechanisms during the holiday season. Close to two in five adults who experience stress during the holiday season (38%) said they use negative coping mechanisms such as isolating themselves (21%), changing their eating habits by overeating or restricting their diets (16%), or relying on substances such as alcohol or nicotine to feel better (13%).

Overall, though, a majority of U.S. adults agreed that the holiday season can be a positive experience. Nearly seven in 10 (69%) agreed that the stress surrounding the holidays is worth it, and 84% said the holiday season creates a sense of togetherness.

“Though the holidays may increase stress levels, they can also be an opportunity. Psychological science tells us that setting aside time to strengthen our relationships and engage in traditions can benefit our physical, mental and emotional well-being, which can prepare us to better manage stress year-round,” said Evans.

American Psychological Association. (2023, November 30). Even a joyous holiday season can cause stress for most Americans [Press release]. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/holiday-season-stress