The American Psychological Association reports majority of people in a survey conducted reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays but those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness; 38% of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season and participants listed top stressors as being lack of time, financial strain, commercialism, pressures of gift giving, and family gatherings (What we know about the holiday blues | psychology Today).
When I think about the holidays I think about warm and wonderful memories with family and friends but the reality of it is even the warmest of memories are accompanied by feelings of stress and anxiety. I will self-disclose for a moment because contrary to popular belief that all therapists “have it together” and “know all the answers” we too are just regular people with feelings of our very own; the main difference is we are armed with a wealth of knowledge about coping skills and theories, that sometimes when in the thick of it, we forget to use. My family, like many of your families has changed so much over the years and stress/sadness for me presently comes from a longing for what once was among other things. I realize for many of you reading the holidays brings about feelings of all kinds, a long list of to-dos, demands on your time, financial strain, expectations, and the list goes on. With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas drawing near we are finding ourselves right smack in the middle of the holiday season and for many expectations of what this time of year “should” look like leaves a feeling of disappointment when people and situations don’t quite measure up or empty from a loss.
So, what is the answer? I genuinely wish there was an easy solution, a one size fits all fix but for each of us there is a different answer, one that is specific to us. We are unique beings, and our lives are unique so why shouldn’t the keys to our happiness be equally unique? While I cannot promise you inner peace at the flip of a switch what I can do is pass along some tips from the Mayo Clinic, some of my knowledge, things that help me (when I remember to do them), and some encouragement that it’s ok to feel just exactly how you feel.
Taking some conscious steps can minimize or even ward off stress, anxiety, and depression.
1. Be mindful ~ What does this mean exactly? The word mindful suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening in the moment. Sounds pretty simple except so often we veer away from what’s happening in the moment, our minds take flight, we lose touch with our body, and before you know it we are engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that has happened or worrying about the future and that makes us anxious. To practice being mindful is to practice being fully present in the moment, pay attention to your five senses, be aware of where you are and what your doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
2. Acknowledge your feelings ~ The holidays can trigger a wide range of emotions, sometimes we find it difficult to understand what we are feeling let alone name it…. Familiarize yourself with the feelings wheel below to help with this.
For example, you may be experiencing sadness if you’ve recently lost or are missing a loved one. Understand your feelings, although uncomfortable at times, are valid and it is ok to feel sad and grieve; allow yourself the space to experience these feelings and find someone you can share those feelings with. You aren’t alone, which brings me to #3…..
3. Reach out ~ connect with others by seeking out events in your community; also consider support groups either online or in person and/or volunteering your time doing something to help others. Helping other people is often the best way to help ourselves; it could be something as simple as dropping off a meal for someone who could use it or just visiting.
4. Be realistic ~ to think we will feel joyous and festive consistently throughout the holiday season just isn’t realistic. It’s natural to long for how things were as families change and grow. By holding onto favorite family traditions, you can embrace the change while being open to creating new ones.
5. Set aside differences ~ this can be a tough one, I know. Remember to be understanding of others distress and feelings, chances are they are feeling the effects of holiday stress as well (this may look different for each person). Focus on the positives of family members and set aside “hot button topics” for a more appropriate setting and set aside grievances, when possible, to come together.
6. Create a budget ~ Before doing your food and gift shopping, realistically decide how much money you can afford to spend; this can help you feel less out of control and help make shopping fun. Give yourself the gift of having a budget.
7. Plan ahead ~ this goes along with organization which does wonders for mental health! Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with others, and other activities. Being organized in this way can help shift your thinking from “obligations you’re dreading” to “upcoming fun events”.
8. Say “no”…. it’s ok 😊 ~ we all suffer from people pleasing from time to time and saying yes when you should actually say no can leave you feeling resentful, overwhelmed, and burnt out. Loved ones, colleagues, and friends will understand if you cannot attend every event; no excuses or explanations are necessary, just simply say “I am unable to attend on that day”.
9. Keep up with self-care ~ give yourself a break! Spending just 15 minutes alone without distractions can leave you feeling refreshed; clear your mind, slow your breathing, and restore your inner calm during this time and reap the benefits. Even folks who thrive on hectic schedules can benefit from taking a daily walk, getting fresh air, taking a drive to enjoy festive lights, listening to favorite music, and the list goes on!
10. Seek professional help when you need it ~ if you are experiencing feelings of persistent sadness and/or anxiety talk to your primary care physician or reach out to a therapist in your area.
*Therapeutic Counseling and Consulting – 804-322-9955 – Offering on site and remote therapy services.
*Additional help finding a mental health professional: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
*24hr National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ~ 1-800-273-8255
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, December 11). Tips for coping with Holiday Stress. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544.
What we know about the holiday blues | psychology Today. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/201712/what-we-know-about-the-holiday-blues.