|Coping with the Holidays
Posted on 12/22/2021 by Maggie Mackenzie
|by Tina Walde, DNP, PMHNP
The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year but sometimes it is not all merry and bright. Many people experience mixed feelings or sadness and loss during the season. While memories may be happy, they may also be tied to prior distressing experiences and felt more intensely. Sometimes people feel lonely during the holidays and sometimes they are missing a loved one. Spending time with old family or friends who are not usually in your orbit can trigger early childhood patterns that are uncomfortable. For example, you may find yourself arguing with a parent or sibling like your 13-year-old self before you know it! And while gatherings and dinners and gift exchanges may be exciting, they may also bring stress and anxiety. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to get through the New Year with grace, starting with some 5-5-5 breathing (5 seconds of inhale, 5 seconds of pause, 5 seconds of exhale, repeat 3 times).
1. Set realistic expectations. We all have a vision of an ideal holiday, but families and events are never perfect, particularly during times of mass disruption such as the pandemic. Ask yourself, “What do I really want my holiday story for today to be?” Create some space for normalcy in your day, like savoring your morning coffee alone, to reflect on what is most important to you. Also limit social media and tendency to compare experiences.
2. Acknowledge your feelings. Let’s face it. Holidays are often messy. Rather than push aside those feelings of frustration, fear, or sadness that arrive, notice their presence, and try to name them. You do not have to get rid of the feeling. Simply accept it is there and that feelings are temporary.
3. Give yourself permission to take a break. Many of us are overscheduled and overworked, especially with additional holiday responsibilities. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is permission to rest, even when that to-do list is never-ending. Taking breaks during an event, such as turning off your phone, going for a walk outside, reading a good book or taking a nap, are necessary for replenishing and being present for others. Remind your child to take these breaks too!
4. Aim for moderation. Holidays can easily become times of excess—baking the best cookies, buying the perfect gift, or having the most lights. They are also times when people may eat or drink more than usual. Try to choose a few events for this year and feel confident in saying “no” when your plate is full. Remember that alcohol is a depressant so be mindful of your consumption.
5. Stay connected. Remember that our chosen family may include many other people in our lives, such as friends, community members, or religious institutions, who bring us joy. Phone a friend or check out a local community event.
While we all may experience some holiday blues, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed daily with sadness or stress even after the holidays wrap up, reach out to your primary care provider for a visit for additional mental health support. If you are in distress and need to talk to someone now, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.