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  • Writer's pictureKelly Rathgeber

5 Tips to Manage Stress this Holiday Season

Lets be honest with ourselves, the holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with loved ones, but it can also be incredibly stressful! Whether you are hosting a holiday party, have to party hop to extended family brunch and then to your dad's famous roast beef dinner on the same day, or are spending the holidays alone, these tips will have you smooth sailing this holiday season.


1. Mentally Prepare - as you look at your calendar and see there are either way too many holiday parties to physically attend or you are spending the holidays solo and feeling the strain of wintertime loneliness, a DBT skill taught by therapists called "coping ahead" can help you calmly face this holiday season.


Coping ahead is a skill that helps you prepare to manage your stress levels before the event has even happened. Consider what you are up against, describe it to yourself, including the uncomfortable emotions that are likely going to arise ie "I will be traveling 3 hours by public transit to visit my family, I will arrive irritated because it is expensive and I will likely feel ignored and unimportant the entire time I am there".


Next, decide on a few steps you could take to tackle the way you anticipate you'll be feeling. For example " I can take the family dog for a walk once I'm there to get fresh air and gain space from my family and to cool down if I start to get upset, I can also pre-write a list of conversation topics so I can feel more included in family conversations"


Imagine yourself in this situation, all the small visual details that are likely going to be there. What does your parent's house look like over the holidays? Who will be there? Imagine all the specifics as detailed as possible.


Rehearse this in your mind, imagine yourself being successful in this situation. What does being successful look like? Imagine what you will say, the way you will act, the way your facial expressions will look and the kinds of things you will be thinking. Consider all possible outcomes and imagine yourself handling it with grace and confidence. Mentally rehearse yourself managing the worst possible outcome. You are effective, skilled and prepared! Lastly, practice rehearsing the scene going well and try to relax.


2. Stay Grounded - it can be all too easy to let our minds spiral during the holidays. Did I get the right gift for my nephew? What if my in-laws bring up an embarrassing moment that I don't want to talk about? My brother always teases me and I feel small at family gatherings. Will my family judge me for wanting to stay home this season because I'm worried about covid?


Sometimes our minds get carried away with worries and thoughts of how badly a situation could turn out. While it is perfectly normal to mentally run through various situation and try to problem solve the best approach, don't let yourself get stuck in the problem phase, ie "the what if's" on repeat. One way to manage preparing for a get together or a stressful moment is to keep yourself grounded.


A physical technique to staying grounded involves our senses. If you start to feel the anxiety rise and your heart rate is starting to feel like its pounding out of your chest, get yourself a cup of tea or light a candle. Savour the scent, breathe it in deeply and exhale slowly. Describe the scent to yourself, is it herby, earthy or vibrant and bright? Calm your nervous system with deep breaths.


A mental technique for grounding is using anchoring phrases - stating what you are doing and where. This can centre you and bring you back down to earth. This can look like saying out loud "I am at home, my cat sprinkles is sleeping on the arm chair, I am wearing a white shirt and blue pants, its snowing lightly outside" . Try to describe everything around you with as much detail as possible.


Lastly, use some self-compassion to soothe yourself. You may be already in the midst of visiting friends and relatives and can't use the other strategies mentioned. Instead, be kind to yourself. Have the thought "I am having a difficult time with this right now, but I can make it through" or "I am doing the best I can right now with what I have".


3. Effectively use your boundaries - no matter what, around the holidays there is bound to be tension. This could come from an ill-timed comment from an uncle or your best friend being a little too pushy. You may have someone pressuring you to spread yourself way too thin and take on too much over the holidays and now you feel guilty over even considering saying no.


First things first, know that your needs are important and valid!! Sometimes we can be scared to establish a boundary because it feels like we will be hurting the other person if we say "no" or ask for what we need. This just isn't true. Your needs are just as important as everyone else's, this point can be lost in the mix especially with family (if they are the expecting type). Be firm but kind about what you need, the holidays can take a toll. Also take into account how much time you want to spend around your loved ones, if you are the one who always has to travel and cook and generally feel exhausted after spending an hour with the folks, establish something realistic for yourself.


Being clear around your boundaries may look like taking more time for yourself or flat out saying no to a friend/family members request.


For example "Mom I find it incredibly difficult to eat a meal around you, I would appreciate if you did not criticize my body at dinner, I find it disrespectful and it needs to stop".


or "Aunt/Uncle, I hear enough about vaccines at work, I do not want to talk about vaccines and vaccine status during my visit so lets please not talk about this, thank you"


Standing up for yourself can be difficult, but remember that others will respect you more for it and it will be an effective way to get across how you feel without holding everything in to the point of exploding.


4. Don't take everything on - perfectionists, I'm looking at you for this one! If you are the host of a party and want your guests to really relax this holiday and have decided to do all the cooking, and the cleanup and the decorating and the gift bags..... kudos to you for your efforts! However, if those cookies didn't get made or that one set of decorations didn't go up on time, give yourself permission to let yourself off the hook! The stress and strain of getting everything done is enough, adding self-induced pressure to get everything "just perfect" is only adding extra suffering. Try to be realistic, you are only human and you do what you can. Your guests will be thrilled with what you've put together and won't notice for a second that the 15th nutcracker decoration isn't up (like it was last year....). Go easy on yourself.


If you are on the attending side (and not the host) of holiday get togethers, don't over book yourself! Your physical and mental energy is important. If you know double booking yourself will leave you exhausted at the end of the day, try to limit your time or kindly decline the second invite of the day. You certainly don't need to take everything on and you'll likely feel more relaxed and refreshed if you give yourself more time rather than spreading yourself too thin just to make others happy.


5. Self care, self care, self care - Once the holidays wrap up remember to take some downtime for yourself. Have a day where you schedule a full 24 hours just for you (or for you and your partner, or you and your pet) to do things that are refreshing to you. This might look like unplugging from technology, journaling about what went well over the holidays, and what didn't. Spend time reflecting on what you are grateful for and really get comfortable. Cozy up with blankets, pillows and candles or get out and be active in the snow (if that refreshes you!). Whatever you chose to do, make sure that it is enjoyable and just for you.


Happy Holidays and take care everyone!





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