Ready, Set, Holidays!
Cooler weather, falling leaves, shorter days, a change in the atmosphere. Fall has arrived, and with it, anticipation of the holiday season just around the corner. In this country, festivities surrounding Halloween typically kick off many weeks of fall and winter holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day. While many people look forward to these holidays with anticipation and excitement, the season can also be a source of frustration, loneliness, and even depression. For many, pain due to loss of loved ones, estranged children, financial difficulties, illness and other struggles is often amplified during what is typically expected to be a time for celebration with family and friends. How can those for whom this season is difficult best navigate the next couple of months? Here are some ideas for anyone who might be experiencing stress due to the holiday season:
1. Plan ahead. Even under the best of circumstances, the large gatherings typical of the season can be trying. If you know you will be encountering difficult situations, planning ahead will give you an opportunity to manage any uncomfortable interactions proactively. Decide ahead of time when you will arrive and leave; decide to avoid any conversations about politics or religion; decide just how involved you are willing to be in terms of contributions; and, perhaps most importantly, decide to stick to your decisions! Having a plan and sticking to it will help you avoid potentially distressing situations.
2. Attend a local talk on how to survive the holidays. Many area churches offer talks or workshops on how to handle the stresses of the season. These opportunities not only extend valuable information and resources, they provide an opportunity to connect with others who are experiencing some of the same difficulties.
3. Create a routine. If you are worrying about the increased pace and how you will manage all of the added activities, create a realistic routine and implement it. Having a routine can create a sense of order and greatly lessen the stress inherent in on-the-fly decision-making.
4. Go outside. Being in nature has a grounding effect. Even if you have only five or ten minutes, taking the opportunity to be outside can tether you to your senses and bring a shift in perspective. Intentionally noticing the beauty that nature so steadfastly offers may provide a respite from feeling blue.
5. Breathe. Whenever anxiety bubbles up and threatens to derail your sense of well-being, practice belly breathing. Prepare by fully exhaling, then inhale deeply and fully through the nose, hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale through the mouth. Do this several times and you will notice a shift in your physical and mental states, allowing for clarity and calm to override anxious feelings.
6. Give yourself permission to grieve. If you are fearing the upcoming season with dread due to a loss, allow yourself to mourn. The loss may be a loved one, a beloved pet, or perhaps a job; loss is loss and, for many, the holiday season brings loss into sharp focus. There is no reason to pretend the loss is not amplified, and doing so only serves to create more internal conflict. Cry, journal, pray, and share your story – whatever you need to do to acknowledge the loss.
7. Connect with others. Isolation is tempting when we are feeling down. While it sounds like a good idea, being alone only serves to deepen feelings of loneliness. Even if it sounds like the last thing you want to do, make the effort to connect with friends and family who you know love and care about you.
These suggestions are helpful across a wide range of circumstances. During the holidays, however, when emotions run high, they can be particularly useful. Whatever you do, remember that there is always help, and that reaching out to a trusted friend or family member might be your best strategy to beat the season’s difficulties.
Courtney Lipscomb, LPC Graduate Student Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S #13143