Every year, around the holidays stress levels go up. There’s a lot to do!
Our therapists here at the Phoenix Counseling Collective have put together a list of ideas to help you through this season.
#1) Plan something you really enjoy.
We often get caught up in doing things for others or because we “should.” By putting something on the calendar that you can look forward to enjoying can help you connect with your desires. Take time to relax in a way that is good for you.
Some ideas might be:
a) Take a walk with a warm cup of tea and notice the colors and displays of Christmas lights throughout the neighborhood.
b) Do something playful, creative, and fun, such as an escape room, ceramics class, dance class, or an adult coloring book.
c) Take a book and coffee/tea by yourself for an hour before meeting up with family.
d) Go on a walk with the kids before starting the tasks for the day.
e) Read your favorite Christmas Story.
The point is, ground yourself before jumping into the chaos. Whatever you plan, doesn’t even have to be related to the holidays, it just has to be good for you.
#2) Exercise your body and take deep breaths.
High intensity helps if you feel down and low intensity helps if you feel anxious. This also gives you some time to get away from everyone. Or, if you want to get one on one time with someone you can invite them to join you. Movement is healing, and endorphins can help you with your emotion regulation. Deep breathing either before or after also helps build-in that time of emotional regulation.
#3) Drink lots of water.
During the holidays sometimes we eat foods that aren’t the most nourishing. Drinking water helps your body level out stress and detoxify itself. It also literally calms down your nervous system. Drinking water helps immensely with whatever situation you find yourself in during this season.
#4) Zoom your vision outward.
Look at the big picture. Focus less on the details, comments, and other petty things, and instead focus on what this holiday means for you.
#5) Set a really clear start and end times for your activities and gatherings.
It may take practice to determine how much time you can spend with certain people, or events without exhausting your emotional reserves. It might only be 30 minutes, and that’s okay.
#6) Take pictures- but not too many.
Sometimes pausing long enough to capture a moment gives space to feel the gratitude or laugh at the situation, but on the other hand it can also keep us from being present. Find the balance. Additionally, be willing to be in pictures- even if you aren’t “looking your best.” These are memories that your family and friends want to have of you.
Take a moment to reminisce on previous holiday “favorite” memories/traditions/events. Sometimes simply reflecting on them can be grounding during this crazy season. You may decide that you want to make them a present-day tradition that brings safety and familiarity, and if so, that’s wonderful!
#1) You are not the same person you were in high school.
Remind yourself of this! You do not need to take on the same role that you once had in this household.
#2) Take charge of the elements or traditions that matter to you.
If you need a green bean casserole, be the one to bring it. Eliminate as many unknowns or opportunities for disappointments as possible.
#3) Set appropriate expectations.
If Uncle Bob always gets drunk and curses, or if your mom always criticizes your weight – assume those things will still be true this time around. Expect those behaviors, don’t let them be a surprise to you. You can only control your reaction, not the behaviors of others. Decide before how or if you will react or handle predictable and expected behavior/conflict. You can do this by the following:
Step 1: Anticipate. You already know what could happen with that family member you always have a run-in with. You can even probably foretell what snide comment they will throw at you. Take the time to think through what might happen. If can anticipate what could go awry, then you can be less reactive when it does happen. Instead of being thrown off and thus reactive, you can chuckle to yourself, “Well, we saw that one coming.”
Step 2: Plan. This next step is to already have a plan in place. In anticipating what the family member might do, you realize that this is the other person’s issue and your job is to just not make it worse and to keep yourself sane. Plan for what to do when you are “activated.” (Your “activated” may be when you feel your heart racing, your palms get sweaty, your teeth grit together, you feel sort of numb all over, or whatever it is for you). What strategies will get you through that moment. You may take a walk, move to a quiet room you like, go to sit with a family member that is a ally, or whatever helps you calm down in a healthy way.
Step 3: Execute. It is imperative to follow through on your plan. Maybe you lose your cool on the first day, but don’t give up on your plan. Practice it before you go and remind yourself that your goal is not to “win” at the holiday party. It is better to survive with your integrity and self-respect in tact.
#1) Talk ahead of time about expectations.
How long were each of you planning on staying at each party? Do you want to check in with each other throughout the evening, or is it okay to go your separate ways and touch base at the end of the night? What’s the plan for getting home? Is one partner planning on drinking? If so, who is going to drive?
#2) Take some time before the holidays to think about what is important to you for this holiday season.
It could be spending time with family or not spending time with family. It could be spending time with friends. Or maybe you want to value not over-committing and using this season to get extra time with just each other. Perhaps you want to say yes to more gatherings and get quality time with your community. Whatever it is, discuss it with your partner.
While we hope that all of this blog helps you in your journey, we want to emphasize for you to intentionally plan things that make you feel good and will help you to take care of yourself. Talk to a safe person about your grief, maybe someone who shares in your grief. Let this person know if there is a certain day that is hard for you and ask if they can check in on you that day. Maybe you can plan something together to honor your loss. You may think of ways to include the person you have lost in family gatherings or holiday rituals. Perhaps you’ll decide to give a donation in their name, perhaps you’ll decide to make one of their famous recipes. Give yourself a moment to ponder what would be good and helpful for you and honoring to them.
We hope that these ideas are helpful as you anticipate this upcoming holiday season. We are grateful to get to partner with you on this journey of life.
The Phoenix Counseling Collective