By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained
For many people, the beginning of the holiday season is a constant cycle of stress, exhaustion, frustration, and ultimately, an increase in anxiety and depression. There are various reasons why people have an increase in these symptoms during the holidays. It may be due to experiencing dysfunction in their family of origin or extended family, or a result of unrealistic expectations, or it may stem from disconnection in communication. I could focus this article on identifying the specifics of the hows and whys these experiences increase during the holidays. However, I think it is more helpful to provide you with some effective coping skills.
When working with clients who have struggled during the holidays, we often begin by checking in on their boundaries. It can be particularly challenging to assert boundaries when family is involved because we are emotionally connected to them. The main premise I teach my clients is this: if you wouldn’t spend time with family members if you weren’t related to them, it’s probably a good idea to limit your exposure to them.
These recommendations are, as always, just suggestions. Apply the ones that feel right for you, adapt them in a way that promotes peace and wellness for you, and do what you feel is in your own best interest. My suggestions for thriving through the holidays — rather than just surviving — include, but are not limited to the following:
Recognize the importance of routines. Routines are essential for most of us, especially as obligations and stressors grow. Routines help us to have a focal point of safety and stability. Routines require less cognitive thought once they become a habit. This is particularly helpful during times of over-commitment and stress. An example is when self-care, such as exercise or meditation, is a part of your routine. You don’t have to think about engaging in self-care, it just becomes a part of who you are and what you do.
Increase your self-care. Self-care typically gets dismissed as something frivolous and not necessary. During times of high stress, it’s more important than ever to increase how well you are taking care of yourself. During the holidays, many people are inundated with parties, activities, interactions, and obligations. Self-care doesn’t need to be an all-day event, just 5 or 10 minutes is beneficial. The suggestions I typically give clients include taking a bath or a shower, coloring, singing, doing some yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, or even just taking some deep breaths for 15 seconds.
Limit exposure to toxic people. If your family stresses you out or are toxic in their interactions, it’s crucial to limit your involvement with them. Whenever I am exposed to toxic or highly negative people, I make sure that I have an escape route. Simple solutions include making sure your keys are in your pocket, that no one parks in a manner that blocks you in, and always having a backup plan of why you need to leave.
Ask for help. If you have stressful interactions with your family, one of my recommendations is to take a safe person with you. If you don’t spend the holidays with your family for whatever reason, ask some friends to spend some time with you. Create some holiday rituals and routines focusing on fun. Celebrate your independence and the fact that you have a chosen family of love.
For some, family is blood relations; for others, family is chosen. Whichever you choose to spend time with during the holiday season, make sure you put yourself first and make your self-care a priority.
For help with any mental health issue, you may contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. Their office is located at 202 N. Prospect, Suite 205 in Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to — or achieve, possibly for the first time ever — a state of complete mental wellness.