As the holidays approach, you may find yourself thinking, “Why the hell am I so stressed out during the holidays? This should be a joyful time. It seems like everyone else is happy.”
You’re not alone! It is common for people to feel stressed out during the holidays. With the anticipation of all that the holidays entail, like family gatherings, travel, gift buying, taking time off from work, and spending money, people often experience a myriad of emotions, including excitement, relief, dread, and plenty of stress.
Try these 4 things to manage your stress this holiday season:
1) Stop judging yourself.
Judging yourself for feeling stressed out, when you think you should feel happy, just exacerbates the stress. So the first thing you can do is to stop judging yourself for feeling the way you do. Your feelings are your feelings—what you choose to do with them is what matters.
2) Nurture yourself.
Do whatever it is that nurtures you. Meet a friend for coffee. Go for a run. Meditate. Eat your favorite meal. Get a massage. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Make time to do whatever it is that helps you unwind and relax.
3) Practice gratitude.
Keep a gratitude journal for 1 week. Maybe try it in honor of Thanksgiving? For 1 week, write down 3 things each day that you are thankful for. Examples are “I feel grateful for the sunshine today,” “I am grateful for being able to play piano,” and “I feel thankful for my best friend who always knows how to cheer me up.”
4) Ask for help.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you are at higher risk for feeling stressed out during the holiday season. Meeting with a therapist can help you learn strategies for managing your stress.
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As I enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch the other day, I observed several other families that had gathered for brunch at the restaurant. A young family sat at one table nearby– the mother was using her iPad, the father was on his cell phone, and their young son was enjoying his food. At another table a young woman sat quietly with a much older woman– maybe her grandmother? At a larger (and rowdier) table, three generations of mothers and their extended family enjoyed conversation and laughter.
I was struck by the different moods of each family. It reminded me that holidays like Mother’s Day can trigger various feelings for people, ranging from happiness and appreciation to loss and anger. While for some people, the holidays provide an opportunity to celebrate and connect with loved ones, for others they are a reminder of previous family conflicts, loved ones who have passed away, or regret about the past. Some people look forward to spending time with family at the holidays, some dread it, and others feel conflicted about it.
Here are 5 ways to cope with feelings about family gatherings:
1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before the gathering.
Feeling rested will reduce your risk of stress at the event by increasing your ability to think clearly and to be patient with your loved ones.
2. Begin your day with 15 minutes of alone time.
This helps give you a sense of inner peace and well-being. Alone time can take many forms, such as a quiet stroll outside in nature, a hot bath, meditation, yoga, journaling, or sitting quietly. Use this time to center yourself in your body and mind, to think about how you’d like the day to go, and to visualize a positive day. Remind yourself that it is okay to have mixed feelings about spending time with family at the holidays. Every family has its problems.
3. Prepare for stressful situations that might arise at the family gathering.
Decide ahead of time how you will handle potential problems at the gathering. Will you try to resolve the problem? Will you leave the room? Will you stay quiet? Will you make a joke? Developing a game plan beforehand will help you manage your stress at the gathering.
4. Practice deep breathing to stay calm in the moment.
If you start to feel tense at the gathering, try breathing deeply and slowly. Proper deep breathing focuses on expansion of the rib cage area, not the stomach. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale to the count of four to six seconds. You can do this while sitting or lying down. Repeat a minimum of five times.
5. Be sure to unwind after the family gathering.
Plan to do something enjoyable and relaxing at the end of the day. This will give you an opportunity to reflect on your day and to enter tomorrow with a fresh start!