While the holiday season can be full of joy, connection, and nostalgia, for many, it can also be a time of considerable stress, dread, anxiety, and depression.
Nothing highlights hurt like the expectations of the holidays. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. You may want to create the perfect, memorable holiday for your children. You may be worried about making ends meet while buying gifts and celebratory food. Maybe you’re alone, or have lost someone making the holidays especially painful. You may have to share your kids with your ex. Then there are the tough family get togethers which can peak anxiety in anyone, not to mention the underlying family dynamics that make these interactions so hard.
So what’s a person to do? How can you survive the holidays with minimal damage, maybe even get some enjoyment out of the season? Here are some helpful tips to enable you to navigate the next few months.
1. Identify the primary sources of stress. It is important to have an idea of what stresses you the most at this time of year to be able to manage those triggers head on.
2. Make a plan. Once you have identified your primary stressors make a plan. Your plan will depend on what your triggers are. Here are some examples:
A.Financial Stress Caused by Gift Giving: You could suggest drawing names for gifts if you have a large family or social group, focus on giving meaningful gifts instead of expensive ones, or suggest opting out of gift giving altogether in exchange of a shared memorable activity.
B.Loneliness and Loss. Have you suffered a recent loss or spending the holidays alone? Finding ways to remember and honor loved ones who have passed can ease the pain of their absence. Participating in community events can help if you are alone, and spending time with loved ones can help comfort you if you are recently divorce or jobless.
C.Family Stress. People often spend more time with family during the holidays than the rest of the year which can be stressful for a variety of reasons. If you are dreading your family get together, have an escape plan. Give yourself an out and reason to leave if it becomes too intense. If you cannot leave, go outside or into another room as needed to take a break. Also avoid getting drunk. Excess alcohol can often make a stressful situation worse.
D.Being Perfect. Are you constantly trying to create perfect memories, or trying to live up to the expectations of others? Give yourself a break. No one is perfect and the only expectations you need to live up to are your own. Pick one or two things you do well and feel good about, and go with that. Focus your energy on what is possible, and your loved ones will likely appreciate your efforts, especially if you are relaxed and happy rather than a stressed out crazy person.
3.Give yourself some time and space. Take small breaks throughout your day to sit in silence, connect with nature, and connect with your surroundings. This can be as easy as going for a short walk outside, and observing what is around you; looking out a window; or letting your eyes wander around the room, and allowing yourself to be curious about what you see. This can calm your nervous system, and help you to reboot yourself every time you do it.
4.Sleep. It is really important to get enough sleep, even when your busy. Not getting enough rest can add to anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, sickness and overall dissatisfaction of life.
5.Avoid over committing. During the holiday season it is easy to over commit, and then feel resentful, exhausted or regretful afterward. It is okay to say “no”, and it is an important element in taking care of yourself.
6.Spend time with other mammals you like. We humans are social creatures, and need to be around others, especially those who help us to feel relaxed and most like ourselves. For some this is a friend, while others a relative, and others it might be a pet. Quality time spend with someone we are comfortable with can help us to better handle the stress in our lives.
7.Do check-ins with yourself. Several times a day, check in with yourself to see how you are feeling in the moment, acknowledge your feelings and deal with them. This means positive feelings as well as the unpleasant. This will help to keep you present, and from suppressing emotions that could lead to a blow up later.
8. Talk to someone. Process your emotions with another person before the stressful situation. This can help you to gain support, to gain perspective, feel heard, and develop an effective plan. This other person could be a friend, clergyman, relative or therapist depending on the level of support you need.
9.Have a little fun. Try to engage in at least one pleasurable activity a day. Notice how you feel before, during and after the activity to increase your awareness of pleasure, and to reduce negative emotions.
10.Move your body. The act of moving your muscles can signal to your brain you are going to be okay, can increase natural endorphins, can give you more energy, and can help to burn off nervous energy.
This list is a guide to help you through a time that is difficult for many people. I work with a variety of people to reduce stress, obtain balance, build and improve relationships and increase life satisfaction. If you could use some extra support this time of year, call me to explore your options.
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