Navigating Holiday Stress

Holidays can be a stressful time for many of us. Whether it be stress caused by family, stress caused by breaks in routine, or seasonal depression it is essential to lean on your coping skills. Here are some tips for navigating holiday stress this year!

Shift your perspective

For many of us, the holidays bring about stress because of family.  Just the thought of being with our family can create a lot of distress. One way to help manage this stress is to manage our thoughts. We know from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that our thoughts influence how we feel and what we focus on. Thus by managing our expectations we can help manage our stress and anxiety. It is okay to have low expectations for your family, however, leaving room for some optimism can allow you to perceive the situation differently. For instance, rather than seeing family events as something you begrudgingly have to do, choose to see them as an opportunity to invest in your relationships. When you leave room for optimism, you give your brain the opportunity to find evidence of positive experiences.

Having Boundaries

Holidays can feel like a confiding experience, especially when you feel pressured to be around your family for an extended period of time. Boundaries are important to create space for your needs. If you are visiting relatives, you can create limits on how you spend your time. For instance, you can schedule what times you will spend with your family and what time you will spend caring for yourself.

Creating Buffer zones

If you know you have to spend time with relatives that bring an unpleasant experience, create a “buffer zone” before and after the interaction. This means doing something that brings you pleasure or calm. For instance, you can watch your favorite TV show before the interaction, and schedule a massage for after. Doing so will help you recharge and allow space to decompress.

Creating Structure 

For many people, the holidays are stressful because it disrupts their routine. If this is the case for you, one way to help feel more at ease during the holidays is to try and retain your already established routine. This could mean walking up early and exercising. This could also mean creating a to-do list for the day. Writing things down is especially beneficial for reducing stress because when you physically see your to-do list it signals to your brain that it does not have to hold on to as many thoughts. 

Identify and Recognize Your Emotions

The holidays can bring up a range of emotions. Taking time to recognize and name your emotions can help you identify ways to manage them. Many times our emotions will manifest in our bodies especially when we are repressing them. Allowing yourself to fully experience your emotions can help release some unease and allow emotions to pass. For instance, allowing yourself to cry helps relax the nervous system. Crying releases manganese which helps regulate our mood. Crying also signals to yourself and others that something is wrong and that you need to decompress. 

Journal Exercise

Writing can be a very beneficial tool for managing our emotions and thoughts. Here is a quick journal exercise you can do to help manage your expectations this holiday season. Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a line 1 inch above the bottom of the paper. Write underneath the line all your worries. It can be things you are worried about getting done, fears of the future, and all your “what if” thoughts. For the rest of the page, draw what you will be focusing on today. Choose one or two things that will bring you joy and peace. It could be a picture of you going for a walk. It could also be a picture of you reading a book. Doing this exercise allows you to focus on what you have control over and what brings you joy. 

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