For some, the “most wonderful season of the year” is anything but wonderful. Any number of things can make this season challenging:
- Feelings of loneliness
- Worry about how family members will get along
- Missing a loved one that is no longer with you
- Guilt about indulging in holiday foods
- Financial burdens of the holiday season
- The gloomy, rainy, cold Pacific Northwest weather
- And the list goes on!
For those that are struggling this season, we’ve put together a list of coping ideas may help you get through the holidays with greater ease.
DEALING WITH STRESS
Stress is a major reason why people come to counseling this time of year. Here are some tips for managing holiday anxiety:
ADDRESS THE HAVE-TO’S
Every family has a unique culture and a unique list of holiday “have-to’s.” It is those “have-to’s” that create a sense of obligation, duty, and sometimes dread. Have you ever paused to ask yourself– “Do I really have to?” “Would anything awful happen if I didn’t?” “What are the reasons why I’ve indulged these “have-to’s” in the past?” Weigh out the pros and cons and give yourself permission to evaluate their necessity thoughtfully. Maybe you will still decide to follow through again this year, but at least it will be done choicefully, not from obligation.
ATTEMPT HEALTHY COMMUNICATION
Relationship conflict brings tension and anxiety during the holidays. Healthy communication involves two key components: 1) Respect for others and 2) Respect for yourself. If your communication style is lacking in one or the other, you might find yourself adding fuel to family conflicts.
If you trend toward passive communication, you have a tendency to hold back what you are really needing and stay quiet until you reach a breaking point. You tend to say “yes” to everything, only to complain about it behind someone’s back. Attuned family members can tell that you are resentful, despite your best efforts to pretend everything is okay. Be respectful of yourself by expressing your needs, saying “no” when you can, and honoring what you feel. It’s okay to be aware of your needs and say them out loud.
If you trend toward aggressive communication (criticism, snide remarks, put-downs, yelling, etc.), someone else’s needs and feelings might get bull-dozed right over, leading to escalations in arguments and family tension. Help communication move more smoothly by listening attentively. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Try summing up what you’ve heard someone say without judgement.
TAKE A BREAK
If you are operating at a break-neck pace to get all of your holiday tasks accomplished, you might be missing out on the beauty found in moments of slowing. Literally stop and smell the roses (or poinsettias). Use your 5 senses to practice being in the present moment. Those with introverted personalities should be especially mindful of taking social breaks during extended family visits. It’s okay to take a 20 minute bathroom break or walk around the block to recharge your social battery.
HOLD ON TO HEALTHY HABITS
Many of us look forward to holiday foods all year long. There aren’t many other times of year we make pumpkin pie, eggnog, or tree-shaped sugar cookies! The smells and tastes of the holidays bring richness to the season. Exposure to these foods can be stressful, however, if you have inner conflicts with food or discomfort with your body. If you’re still on the diet-train, this time of year can be especially riddled with guilt and shame with any indulgence. If this yearly battle sounds familiar, now might be the time to learn about Intuitive Eating, a non-diet approach to food that honors your body’s hunger, fullness, and satiety needs. A trained counselor can help you build a healthier relationship with food (and your body) so you can enjoy holiday favorites in a way that respects your body’s needs.
Body movement (AKA exercise) can be an essential stress reliever during the bustle of the holiday season. If you are exercise-adverse, maybe it’s time to re-frame your idea of exercise. What would it be like for you to move your body in a way that feels joyful? Fun? Awe-inspiring? Strong? Or Energizing? Break out of the box and ask the question–When was the last time I had “FUN” moving my body? Maybe you were chopping wood, or hiking the woods at night, or dancing salsa. Whatever it is, put it into your schedule this winter.
COPING WITH GRIEF & LOSS
If you are enduring the holiday season without someone you love, this season can trigger intense grief, loneliness, and sadness. You might be missing your loved one deeply and the special moments shared together. There’s no quick fix for these feelings of grief, but here are some ideas that might help:
- Go easy on yourself. You might not have the energy to host, entertain, or go through the motions of all of the usual holiday traditions. That’s okay.
- Honor the person that you’ve lost. Don’t be afraid to reminisce, look at old photos, cook their favorite holiday meal, or even attend a local “Longest Night” or “Celeration of Remembrance” service.
- Keep one tradition and add one tradition. There’s no doubting that this holiday will be different from the last. Embrace that and don’t be afraid to try one thing new.
- Seek professional help. If you aren’t already meeting with a counselor, there’s no better time than the present.
If you’re experiencing stress or sadness around the holidays, a counselor at Star Meadow Counseling is available to help. You can reach us at 360-952-3070 or schedule an appointment online at www.starmeadowcounseling.com