Help For The Holidays by Dave Evans – Clinical Care Consultants Arlington Heights Inverness

Help For The Holidays

by

Dave Evans, MA, LCPC

“The Holidays are coming…and there’s nothing you can do about it!”     ~ Lin Brehmer ~

Many of us roll our eyes, smile, sigh, or maybe inwardly groan at the mere mention of the holiday season. Scores of songs, TV shows, and movies highlight the frustration, excitement, hurtful (or heartwarming) family dynamics, joy, and exhaustion that “The Holidays” represent. This time of year is a mixed bag, and everyone has their own perceptions.

Some of us love the holidays. We embrace all that comes with the festivities and can’t wait to decorate, shop, bake, and plan parties and family gatherings. We may be one of those people who fuel others’ spirit of appreciation; we may also be the one who drives them mad with our enthusiasm and insistence that others join in our fun.

For many, the holiday season is a painful reminder of difficult life situations, losses, or feeling alone. Perhaps our families or circles of acquaintances are hard for us to be with, or groups and parties are not in our comfort zone. We may have problems with food, alcohol, shopping, or other areas of life that are typically overindulged during the holidays creating additional stress.

Although the phrase “Happy Holidays” is the frequent greeting we receive, the holidays bring a heightened sense of sadness and isolation for many.  When life is not easy, we may struggle with the “Hallmark version” of universal peace, joy, and togetherness or, we simply don’t experience those feelings at this time of year.

Many of us also find the holidays trying and burdensome. We like the idea of celebrating, gathering with others and practicing our traditions. We also know these activities are time and energy consuming, “piling on” more to our busy and challenging schedules and “to do” lists. Financial concerns can overwhelm us when there is an expectation of giving that strains an already tight budget.

Every year I hear people ask (and I ask myself), “isn’t there an easier or better way to do this?” If you’re one of those people, this year can be an opportunity to change the way you approach and experience these coming weeks and moments. Here are a few ideas and strategies that may make this holiday season a better one for you:

Practice Mindful Breathing – Let yourself breathe deeply and slowly, filling your belly first to really fill your lungs with air. Pay close attention to your breathing, especially the sensations in your chest, upper body, and muscles as you open up space in your mind and heart. Let go of any thoughts or emotions that keep you from focusing on your breath and sensations. Chances are those thoughts or feelings are not essential in this moment, and you can come back to them later if necessary. This is one of our most important tools for de-stressing, and you can do this wherever you are, whenever you want to.

Seek Quiet and Rest – Allow yourself, whenever possible, to retreat from noise, “doing more,” and overstimulation. Engaging your spirit through retreat and rest can be refreshing during a hectic day or week. Practice mindful breathing and focus inward on how your body feels when stressed and appreciate the difference of how your body feels when you disengage from the stressors and create a quiet place within. Notice your emotions when you’ve been successful with giving yourself this break and promise yourself to return there when you need it.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify – If you are weary of needing to make the perfect dinner, host the best party, practice all the family traditions and create the best holiday gathering ever…maybe it’s time to stop. Be curious about what you wouldn’t do if you didn’t “have to.” Please ask yourself, “am I (doing, buying, baking, sending cards, decorating, giving, hosting) this because it really means something to me?” You’re not on this planet to fulfill everyone’s (or anyone’s) requirements about what a holiday “should” be.

“Big is not always best. Expensive is not always valuable. Time-consuming is not always lasting.”  ~ Karen Katafiaz ~

Practicing Self-Care and Self-Love – Do you dread the holidays because there’s too much work involved for you, and too much expected by others? Do you find yourself exhausted and let down after a holiday? This might suggest that you’re focused more on others’ enjoyment of the holiday than on your own and you may be taking on a lot of stress attempting to make others happy. This holiday season is a great time to experiment with saying “no” to the pressure that tells you that you must satisfy the expectations of someone else. If you’re faced with a holiday-related task, tradition, or activity that stresses you out, or you wonder, “why am I doing this?” – seriously consider not doing it. Choosing to lighten your holiday (over)load is an act of self-care and relates to being able to love and accept ourselves.

Using Mindful Awareness and Savoring – The holiday season is filled with sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that are often unique to this time of year. Savoring is a way to deeply enjoy a sensory experience; we stay in the present moment and become immersed in it completely. Our emotions and our brains actually change when we focus our attention and truly engage with something we enjoy. When we practice this intently, we let go of our endless stream of thoughts, worries, plans, and imaginary dialogue. They fade into the background – and we can feel calm and less pressured. Just a few minutes of breathing, savoring, or spending time outdoors per day can make a remarkable difference in your day – and your level of stress.

Finding Support – The holidays are the loneliest time of year for a growing number of us – if we don’t have a close circle of loved ones and friends, we may feel a heightened sense of sadness, grief and isolation. We may have especially painful memories of loss or disappointment suffered during past holidays and feel stuck. Dealing with difficult emotions can be alienating, especially in the season of “good cheer.” The reality is, if you hurt, you’re not alone.  Rather than withdrawing from these feelings, communicate them to a safe person – this can reduce the power they have over you. If you’re not comfortable sharing with a friend or family member, talking to a therapist can be a relief from the feelings of not belonging and loneliness.

While these ideas are good ones, not all of them will meet everyone’s unique needs for managing holiday stress. What changes could make this season less difficult for you? How can you create new practices that will help you to actually enjoy the holidays – and not just endure them?  We encourage you to take the steps you need to create the holiday that offers you peace, love and happiness.

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