As a kid, I never remember the holiday season being an actual “season” of time. The holidays felt very separate, and in some ways, like there was too much time in between. After Halloween, there seemed to be an eternity of time that would pass before New Years.
Feelings associated with this time included some of the feel good positives of excitement, joy and giddiness. However, the older I got, I realized that the holiday season is real. Not only that, the holiday season can cause some serious stressors. Whether my clients are expressing a great amount of stress regarding the holidays, or just mild stressors, my encouragement for how to get through this time of year remains consistent.
My Advice to Clients
First, I encourage my clients to be aware of what is adding to their stress levels. Let’s just be honest with each other ok? There’s no judgement if your family drives you up the wall. There’s no judgement if you don’t want to make Christmas cookies or if you would rather not go see your cousin’s kids holiday concert. It’s ok and you’re ok, but let’s talk about what is honestly bothering us about this time of year.
I find that people are afraid to be honest about their true feelings for fear of judgement from others. However, in order to get through this, you must be able to understand why you feel stressed in the first place. By doing this, you are giving yourself permission to be honest, which can feel therapeutic and authentic. Furthermore, once you feel more aware about what makes you feel stressed out during this time of year, you’re better able to make an individual plan.
The following is a list of ideas on how to make the holidays a more peaceful time of year.
How to Survive (And Thrive) During the Holiday Season
1. Identify your values
The holiday season is full of societal pressure. This pressure comes from the values that our society attempts to impose on us. It’s up to each of us to identify what we value during this time of year. Next, we must compare our list of values to the values of our society to see where they line up and where they do not. Get in line with your values as much as you feel you can. Here’s the thing, it won’t be perfect. And you know what? That’s ok, this is about progress and not perfection.
2. Set boundaries
Once you understand your stressors and have identified your values, it’s time to make a plan, which involves setting boundaries. Boundaries for the holiday season might include where you spend your time or how much time you spend with certain family members, or if you spend time with them at all. Boundaries might also include the amount of money you decide to spend on decorations or gifts or food or donations. If you have a partner or spouse, I strongly encourage you to discuss boundaries with them ahead of time so you can come up with a plan together. Here’s another place where it isn’t going to be perfect. You may have to compromise, and that’s ok.
3. Limit social media use
I encourage clients to think about how much time they spend on social media and to consider whether that may be adding to their stress levels. Personally, this is a daily exercise for myself. Some days I feel ok with the amount of time I have spent on social media. While other days — not so much. It’s about taking that brief moment to check in with the self and ask, “How am I feeling about what I’ve been seeing on social media?” Sure, there can be lots of good ideas online or it can be fun to see all the different events going on or what others are doing. However, this can also be very overwhelming, and add to the list of things you already feel pressure to be doing during this time of year.
4. Create a coping skill tool belt
Coping skills are tools that are meant to help assist you when you’ve identified that you are feeling something from the negative side of the feeling wheel. This makes them very important. As human beings, we all come in contact with negative feelings. I encourage people to embrace their negative emotions and to consider thinking of them as the volume knob on a radio. Coping skills are not meant to turn that volume from ten to zero. Instead, they are meant to turn that volume down from a ten to a seven. Coping skills won’t get rid of how you feel, but they can help you get through a negative emotion.
As a general rule of thumb, I encourage clients to have three coping skills available to them at all times. Obviously, the more the merrier, but strive to have at least three — one of which includes a mental coping skill. We may have one really useful skill, such as listening to music, but that is not always available and we have to be able to adapt. Mental coping skills might include thinking of your happy place, or using positive affirmations such as “this too shall pass” or “I don’t know for sure that his/her comment was about me.”
One of my favorite coping skills is a grounding technique that I learned from a dietitian colleague of mine. I refer to it as the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. When you are aware that you are feeling ______ (some unwanted feeling), you recognize the feeling and then find five things around you that you can see, then four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you taste. This helps to ground you back into the present moment. Furthermore, I believe this techniques gives you the confidence to utilize other coping skills that might also help, such as distraction.
At the end of the day, you have to remember that this is about progress and not perfection. This is an idea that will be tested time and time again throughout the holiday season. You don’t have to have the perfect kids Halloween costume and you don’t have to have the best gifts and you definitely do not have to have a New Year’s resolution. You can have a day, and a season, that is filled with experiences and things that you value. It can sometimes feel scary to live within your values. However, the more you do it the easier it will get. Just remember…You’ve Got This!