What are the holidays like for you? Are you excited by the parties, food and gift giving? Maybe you have nostalgia for holidays past. It is also possible, the holidays aren’t so magical for you. Maybe you’re stressed out, worried about the expense of it all, the expectations of others, or time with family. Some people are also very lonely. 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, or some mixture of all of the above.
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 is family entertaining which can peak anxiety in anyone, not to mention the underlying family dynamics that make these interactions challenging.
All of this considered, it is possible to enjoy the season!
Here are some ideas:
1. Know what stresses you out. It’s helpful to identify what the biggest problems are to manage those triggers head on.
2. Make a plan. Your plan will depend on what your triggers are. Here are some examples of common holiday issues:
Financial Stress Caused by Gift Giving and Entertaining: 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. If you host dinners and events, feel free to go pot luck style and ask your guests to pitch in.
Loneliness and Loss. Whether a love one has passed, you have been recently divorced, or lost a job you have suffered a loss that can be especially painful during the holidays. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve when the feelings arise. Surrounding yourself with loved ones who are supportive can ease loneliness and be kind to yourself. Additionally, finding ways to remember and honor loved ones who have passed or positive memories of your relationships can ease the pain of their absence. Participating in community events can help if you are alone. You could even participate in a volunteer activity like helping the homeless, or a different charity. Helping others can help you to feel good and connected to others!
Family Stress. Spending extra time with family 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. If your immediate family causes you stress, make sure to plan some alone time, and fun time for everyone. Create some balance.
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 important to get enough sleep, even when you’re 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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