If the holidays were exactly like the jingles we sing, we’d be spending the season cozying up by the fire or blissfully bounding around in sleds, but that’s often not the case. From working over the holidays to staying home with a seasonal cold, getting stuck in traffic or delayed at the airport, dealing with family drama or trying not to spend a fortune on gifts — if we’re not prepared, the holidays can leave us feeling overbooked, overwhelmed, and burned out.
Now, I don’t want to get down on the holidays — they’re also a time of year that I look forward to and enjoy celebrating. But as a behavioral health coach, I can’t help but notice how all of the holiday parties, events, cold/flu season, drinking, and busy work schedules tend to disrupt the important self-care rituals (like getting enough sleep and budgeting) that we practice throughout the year. And when lack-of-sleep meets overspending meets listening to uncle so-and-so give a lecture on politics, it’s easy to experience our stress levels ramping up and resilience wearing down.
For me, this is triggered by family disagreements. Even though I know it happens in every family, nothing gets my stress going like hearing one family member complaining about another. For this reason, it’s critical that I keep my self-care ritual of doing a ten-minute morning meditation, regardless of whether I’m visiting family. I know that when I prepare for the potential of stress and meditate first thing in the morning, I’ll be in a more resilient mindset throughout the day, will be less likely to take on the stress of others, and can remember to set boundaries.
Throughout the holidays, you can do this too by keeping up your self-care routines and rituals to reduce stress and get the most out of the season. Here are a few strategies I recommend:
In 2011, psychologist and self-help author Robert Epstein released a survey to study the stress management techniques of 3,000 participants in the U.S. and 29 other countries. His findings revealed that the stress management technique that worked best was planning. Epstein says it appears that “fighting stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen” was most effective in keeping stress levels down. Planning ahead can help to take away anxiety, which stems from the unknown and from coming up with worst-case scenarios in our minds for how things will go. Since we can already expect some stress to come up over the holidays, planning out ways to deal with difficult family members, how to broach tough subjects, or set boundaries can help you to feel more prepared and less blindsided when these situations arise.
Another way to plan ahead for the holidays is to think of a few holiday rituals you and your loved ones already enjoy each year or ones you would like to create. Because rituals are predictable, having a few to look forward to can help to mitigate the anxiety of the unknown. Plus, holiday rituals can remind us of the reason we get together during the holidays: to focus on traditions, connections, and having fun.
A ritual can be anything that’s done each year in a similar way. Rituals can be varied, like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, taking a walk as a family after a meal or helping your grandmother make her pecan pie. Other rituals to focus on are your regular self-care rituals and routines, like getting to bed at a reasonable hour, moderating food and alcohol intake, and getting in exercise as you normally would. These factors can help us to feel more stable and more like ourselves during the holidays.
Having an Abundance Mindset is another way that you can mentally prepare and strengthen your resilience over the holidays. I define an Abundance Mindset simply as striving to see all the things that you have, instead of the things that you don’t. When we focus on what we don’t have, we end up grasping at things outside of ourselves for happiness and fulfillment (think materialism or substance use), which can cause stress and lead to unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. Additionally, common triggers, like seeing pictures of other people’s “perfect” holiday tables, decor, or parties on social media can increase the feeling that what you have is lacking. However, focusing on abundance and being grateful for what you do have can help you to feel more at peace with things as they are.
An abundance mindset approach to managing holiday loneliness might involve looking at the relationships that you do have and focusing your energy there, instead of focusing on the relationships that you don’t have. Or, if you’re working through the holidays, it could mean realizing that a customer’s or coworker’s stress or anger isn’t about you, and isn’t anything that you need to hold onto. If there are external things that you’d like to change, like improving your relationships or taking fewer holiday shifts next year, it’s okay and normal to come up with plans for how to change your life. This could involve listing the things you are grateful for as well as your strengths, like your capacity to solve problems and utilize support (like your Ginger coach!) to grow as a person.
To sum it all up, preparing for holiday stress is an offshoot of the ways that you already manage stress in your daily life. Get familiar with your triggers and patterns, set yourself up for success by organizing your time, and set boundaries when necessary. The goal is to take care of yourself just as well as you would on any other day of the year. When you’re freed up from at least some stress, you’re better able to enjoy yourself. After all, while there will always be some stress over the holidays, these strategies can help you get back to enjoying the cozy moments by the fire and quality time with family or friends. So, here’s to wishing you a happy, mindful, and balanced holiday season!