Coping with the Holiday Season

By: Saren LeCompte, LCPC

It’s that time of year again! The frigid weather descends, lights decorate streets and homes, we become inundated with propaganda about gift giving…oh the holidays. It is a magical time of year for some; one of excitement, togetherness, love and hope. For others, it can be a time of stress, depression, insecurity and instability. The holiday season often sparks so many emotions for people, it can be difficult to know how to effectively manage.

Here are a few tips to better manage anxiety around the holiday season:

  • Be proactive and plan ahead. Whether you are traveling, hosting visitors or dinner guests, or anticipate financial strain, it is imperative to be proactive. Mindfulness and the ability to reflect on how these scenarios may impact you allow a person to develop a plan of action to reduce the potential for anxiety and stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.” By being cognizant of triggering situations and corresponding responses, you are better equipped to know your limitations and plan accordingly; for example, set reasonable expectations, stay present rather than future focused, ask for help, and save appropriately.
  • Be flexible. No matter how much forethought and planning is done, something is bound to crop up that you did not expect; flights get cancelled, the oven breaks, that one family member brings up something inappropriate. It is important to recognize that you cannot control everything, and in trying to do so, you inevitably increase the potential for anxiety and disappointment. While relinquishing control can cause frustration and uneasiness, it can also facilitate compromise, reevaluate your own expectations and where-with-all and to push you to confront new challenges and recognize both personal and external successes. So how does one become more flexible? First, be cognizant of what is within your control (i.e. Your actions, responses and choices). Next, recognize limitations and give yourself permission to let go. Finally, identify positive outcomes when possible and be kind to yourself if fallout occurs. Even the most structured person can benefit from some level of flexibility, and the the holidays often allow you the opportunity to test those skills.
  • Take care of yourself. People don’t often associate the holidays with being centrally focused, however focusing on self-care is imperative to productive functioning. Audre Lorde once said, “ …caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” It is necessary to take time for yourself and care for your needs by tending to anxiety, sadness, frustration, hopelessness or whatever you might be experiencing in the moment. Exercise, rest, therapy, meditation, journaling, fostering interests, reading, and taking space are a few ways to promote mindfulness and self-care and ultimately improve functioning.
  • Cultivate relationships. The holidays often illicit a desire for attachment and connection. While some people are surrounded by a wealth of family and friends, others may not have a support system in place. For those that might be (or feel alone), volunteer, engage in events or seek out religious affiliations within your community in an effort to help others and create new relationships. Within a family dynamic, set aside issues or hostilities, reevaluate expectations and focus on the benefits of these relationships. Additionally, give yourself permission to identify and reach out to unconventional families, such as friends or colleagues.
  • Find the silver linings. Try to enjoy yourself as much as possible. Take stock in what is important to you, whether it be time with loved ones, enjoying the time off from work or indulging in sumptuous foods. It is easy to give into the stress you may be feeling or the disappointment when certain events don’t occur as you had anticipated. It is far more productive however to consider the positive emotions you experience when you see your children’s face light up, hear the songs of the season that warm your heart, fulfill family traditions that you secretly love or find new strength that previously went unrecognized. Positivity can be a powerful, so use that as your compass when navigating the holidays.
With the holiday season now in full swing, the potential for stress is likely to increase. These quick tips can assist you to make the most of this special time and survive the holidays by reducing the potential for anxious symptoms and allow a renewed outlook on possibilities. Happy holidays to all!