For many the holidays are considered a magical time and might be something they look forward to, but for a whole lot of others the holidays can be a stressful and/or emotionally difficult time to manage. This blog series focuses on helping those who struggle with the holidays manage the stress and emotional weight that shows up this time of year.
I'm starting the series with tips on managing holiday stress. Here I speak more about the stressors of your calendar filling up and feeling like there is a lot to accomplish. When we feel overwhelmed this can affect how we are feeling, which ultimately affects our relationships. Here are a few tips to try to stay on top of taking care of yourself and managing your stress levels this holiday season.
1- Pay Attention
The first step in managing something in your life is to pay attention to how you are feeling. Think back to the last couple of years, how did you respond emotionally and physically to the holiday season? Do you remember feeling overwhelmed or stressed out? If you have a hard time remembering, pay attention to what it feels like when you think of the “Holidays” and all that comes with it now -- what do your first few thoughts sound like? What are you telling yourself? How does your body feel? Do you tense up? Feel nervous? The first step toward learning to care for yourself during stressful periods is to understand just how you are feeling in the first place. Another way to track how you are feeling is to write your feelings down in a journal or keep track the different thoughts you have throughout a day (or week). Jotting down our feelings or thoughts can help us to better understand what is going on inside of us. So often we just soldier through without really thinking about it, this way you are taking note of what is happening for you.
2-Assessing your Needs
Once you have a better understanding of how you are feeling, lets take a look at what it is that you want or have to accomplish over these next few weeks. Starting a list is a good place to begin tracking your to do's... or looking at a calendar can visually help you map out your tasks. Once you get an idea of all you have to do, are there places you can ask for help? For instance, if you have a holiday potluck coming up and you are feeling overwhelmed by work or parenting, can you ask your partner to help you bake something? Or are there other things your partner can take care of so that you have the time and headspace to make your dish?
Basically, don’t be afraid to ask for help this time of year. Your partner may need the same from you, so its a great time to think about being there for one another. If you are single and don’t have extra hands to help you, think about places you can downsize your list. Maybe you planned to make cookies for your coworkers this year, but your calendar is really filling up and work is really busy this time of year... look at where you can cut down tasks for yourself. There’s only so much one can do!
For a lot of people finances become a major stressor during the holidays. If you are in this category, first I encourage you to start with some self-compassion. I think so often we judge ourselves when we feel we don’t have “enough” money to buy all we want for our family and/or friends. It’s ok if this year is tight for you, try not to judge yourself for it. It just is what it is. If things are tight, try to think of creative ways to give to those you love. Sometimes creative/artistic/thoughtful gifts go a long way towards warming someones heart as well as the gift of being with each other. Also, putting together a budget early in the season can be very helpful if money is short this year. Plan it out best you can ahead of time to avoid last minute stress or disappointment.
4-Spirit of Giving (to Others and Yourself)
One of the beautiful expressions that shows up around the holidays is the idea of spreading love and helping others. Giving connects us to others and helps build stronger communities. I giving to others we actually help ourselves as well, Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.
While you are giving/helping others, I would also encourage you to think about how you can take care yourself in the same way you would for another. If we can learn to care for ourselves and provide compassion and love inward, our outer worlds often start to reflect this as well. So in the spirit of the holiday season why not treat yourself to a hot chocolate or give yourself permission to stay home one evening and enjoy a hot bath and your favorite shows on DVR. Take the time to regularly check in with yourself and provide the love you need.
I hope these topics will inspire thinking around how you can take care of yourself a bit more during this holiday season. If you need help managing stress or are feeling emotional this year and could use some support, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist in your area. The holidays bring up more than just stress... emotional family issues can creep up as well as feeling surges of grief from those we have lost or are no longer celebrating the holidays with. I will be blogging about these issues soon, so keep your eyes out for that. Until then, take good care!
Melissa Grohs, MA, LPCC
Psychotherapy & Counseling for Individuals