Written by Jonathan Benz, MS, CASAC, ICADC
If you are like me, you have been enjoying this holiday season—but also with a wee bit of angst. I think for most of us, that’s normal. We have come through a couple of difficult years and while we want to gather with our loved ones and make the most of the season, it feels hard to escape the shadow of the pandemic with words like delta and omicron hovering over us in the news every day.
According to research, two-thirds of Americans report that their overall mental health wellbeing worsens during the holiday season, and that’s during non-pandemic times! Most people report feeling more anxious or depressed this time of year.
How do you make most of the holiday season while managing holiday stress?
First, it’s important to note that stress is the body’s natural reaction to the demands of the world. It’s normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure. It’s just part of being human.
Understanding Common Holiday Stressors
Second, it’s important to understand holiday stressors and how they can trigger stress and other emotions. Stressors are events or conditions in your surroundings that may trigger feelings associated with stress. Stressors can arise internally (fears, anxiety, traumatic memories, etc.) or externally (job change, a move, death, illness, the burnt turkey, delayed flights, etc.).
Some common Holiday stressors are:
· Lack of time
· Lack of money
· Unable to find items due to supply chain shortages
· Over-focus on drinking, eating, and partying
· Gathering with family or friends whom we normally don’t see throughout the year
· Missing certain family or friends who cannot be with us physically
· Feeling pressure to give the perfect gift
· Too high of expectations or unrealistic expectations
· Feeling down that our personal celebration doesn’t fit the Hallmark Channel ideal
Managing Expectations to Mitigate Holiday Stress
When it comes to helping to reduce holiday stress, it’s important to manage expectations. Set a game plan before your holiday gathering. Have an honest, respectful conversation about who to see and who not to see. Talk openly about what might be difficult or challenging—especially if you have lost a loved one in the last two years. Be open to the idea that situations and plans may have to change due to unforeseen circumstances.
Be Aware of Emotional Triggers
It is also important to be aware that our emotions can get triggered in unexpected ways this time of year. So, express your feelings with respect and allow your loved ones to do the same. Acknowledge feelings and validate them, recognizing that oftentimes feelings are just that: feelings. They may make us feel sad, anxious, or out-of-control, but they are part of the human experience. They usually are pointing to something else or something deeper. Feeling out emotions—without them completely taking over—is how we move through them and get to the other side.
Keep an Open Mind
Also, keep in mind that your loved ones might have different ideas about how the Holiday should look. So be open to differing ideas and opinions, and be willing to meet those you love halfway, whenever possible.
Three Final Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress
Finally, remember this is a Season of Light, when we allow hope, faith, and joy to penetrate the dark winter days—and hopefully the dark nights of the soul too. So, with that in mind:
1. Still your soul. The Holiday Season is filled with such busy-ness, it’s important to take time for ourselves. Find time early in the morning or late at night to spend time alone and listen to your heart. Go for a walk. Go for a workout alone. Meditate. Do something just to connect with yourself this season.
2. Settle the issues. Decide in advance that your day will turn out okay even if things don’t go as planned. Setting clear expectations about start times, end times, gift-giving, and guest lists will help ensure that you can relax with those you love. Because the main issue is to enjoy emotionally safe, quality time with those who mean the most to us.
3. Shine your light. Don’t be afraid to sparkle this season. Oftentimes, going home or reconnecting with loved ones can be very triggering so we shrink or diminish our true selves. Be wise, but don’t hold back! Be your authentic self. Your loved ones deserve to know and enjoy you as you truly are. And you owe it to yourself as well.
So, be merry and full of cheer. After all, ‘tis the Season. With some proper preparedness, you will be ready to celebrate this most wonderful time of the year.
If you or a loved one are finding the holidays overwhelming this year, O’Connor Professional Group (OPG) offers a breadth of behavioral health services to address the needs of individuals and families living with addictions, eating disorders, mood and personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and other behavioral health conditions. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder or are in need of support, contact us today. Our compassionate professionals are here to help find the resources to support you and your family.