The holidays bring a lot of excitement, but they can also bring a hefty dose of stress. There are additional demands on time and money, expectations and invitations to be social, and changes in our personal routine. That’s all before sitting down to the dinner table with the entire family!
It takes care to manage the holidays well and to find a sense of balance. If you or a family member struggle with anxiety or depression, holiday stress can be that much more disruptive. Family dynamics add to the complexity of the holiday season. Follow these five tips to create a positive holiday season:
- Identify what triggers you. Holidays often bring up strong emotions. Painful memories or tension with specific family members can surface this time of year. Holidays highlight what’s stayed the same and what’s changed in our lives; sometimes bringing along a cascade of related judgement. Be specific in addressing what you dread about the holidays. Then, you can create a clear pathway around it.
- Remember that you have a choice. Create a pros and cons list to decide which traditions and “have-tos” you want to keep. Identifying the reasons you do them year after year. Let go of the activities that are stressful or less meaningful. Make a point to participate in family rituals that are meaningful to you, and use them as opportunities to find common ground with your family.
- Be realistic, and get creative. Set limits and stick to them. Be realistic about what you can do while still taking care of your physical and mental health. Collaborate and compromise with your family to modify traditions so that they will be less stressful. For example, ask a family member to host, or have a potluck instead of taking on all the cooking and cleaning yourself. If the immediate days of the holiday are jam-packed, make a point to connect later one-on-one with family members that you weren’t able to see.
- Plan your participation. Where will you sit? Who will you talk to, and what about? How will you respond if you feel interrogated? Have a plan in mind that will allow you to feel as comfortable as you can in otherwise uncomfortable situations. Bring along an anchor that grounds you, like an engraved stone, or have a mental anchor: an image or phrase that reminds you of who you are, how you want to act, and how you like to feel. For example: “I am calm and positive,” an image of mountains, or, “I’m here to enjoy the family I have.”
- Allow yourself to be flexible. Give yourself the freedom to change your environment if you feel upset or overwhelmed. Go to the bathroom or step out for a walk. Allow yourself to leave an event altogether, if you need to. If you’re attending with someone else, communicate with them ahead of time so that they know what to expect.
From all of us at Horizon Health Services, we hope you use these tips to have a safe and happy holiday season! And if you feel that this time of year brings more than you can bear, please contact us at 716-831-1800 today. Our mental health and substance abuse counselors are ready to help you.