A Guide to Surviving the Holidays
When some people think of the winter holidays, they picture a happy time celebrating old memories and creating new ones. But it’s not all perfectly wrapped presents and cozy sweaters for everyone; the holidays can actually be very difficult for many. If you are having a difficult time in your life already, the holidays can exacerbate feelings of sadness, despair, loneliness and anxiety.
Why Do the Holidays Feel so Hard?
There are many reasons why the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for many of us.
- Missing loved ones and feeling lonely –Witnessing others’ holiday cheer is not necessarily contagious. On the contrary, if you recently lost a parent or went through a divorce, receiving a dozen cards wishing you a happy holiday season can remind of the pain you have youexperienced. If you are coping with the death of a family member or a friend, the holidays can trigger painful memories and feelings of loss. Many of us also miss family and friends who reside elsewhere; while the internet can connect us with one another, not being able to spend the holidays with those we love can be hard.
- Surviving socially – The holiday season can feel busy and hectic with shopping, planning, traffic and social gatherings. This heightened pace can feel stressful and overwhelming for many. Office and holiday parties can feel draining for some, especially for those already struggling with stress, anxieties or feelings of sadness about the holiday.
- Family stress – Let’s face it, many of us have complicated or stressful family dynamics. While spending time with our loved ones can be a source of joy, it can also be difficult to balance expectations, avoid conflict, and please everyone. Feeling pulled in many directions or responsible for others can leave us feeling burnt out and depleted.
- Finances – According to The Retail Council of Canada (RCC), the average holiday shopper will spend $675 on gifts. If you are feeling overwhelmed just thinking about holiday shopping, you are not alone. Gift shopping has been named the most stressful thing about the holidays, so much so, that the American Psychological Association has published a guide to Dealing With the Pressure of Gift-Giving.
How Can I Make the Holidays Easier?
Self-care strategies are particularly important during the holiday season. Here are a few tips for surviving the stress and possibly even making the season a joyous one in spite of the challenges.
- Boundaries – Setting limits with family and social gatherings will help to reduce feelings of overwhelm and the expectable resentment that comes when we take on too much for others. You might not be able to check all the boxes on your list, make all the phone calls you intended to, or go to every gathering you have been invited you. It is ok to give yourself permission to prioritize your wellbeing and your own needs for the holiday. Balance between self and others will foster health and resilience.
- Self-care – For some, self-care means bubble baths, deep breathing or spending time with loved ones. For others, it might mean simply sticking to routine. For example, if going to the gym is a way of releasing stress, it is worth waking up early to make time for this activity. Your afternoon self will thank you when family time becomes stressful.
- Limit social media – It has been smartly said, “do not compare your difficult moments to everyone else’s highlight reel!” If you find yourself frustrated, sad, tearful, anxious or envious when scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc., remember that what you see on your screen is only what others have chosen to share with the world. Better yet, stay away from social media and connect to people you care about in a more personal way.
- Focus on the things you can control – We cannot control other people’s behaviour, but we sure can stress about it. If you are worried about whether there will be conflict or uncomfortable moments at your next gathering, if someone might over drink, isolate etc., you might want to focus on what is in your control, such as being assertive, managing your own emotions, and ensuring your own self-care.
- Plan around rush hour and crowds – In clinical psychology, we try to help people push through their avoidance. The more you avoid the things that make you anxious, the more difficult it becomes to manage your anxiety in the long run. However, the holiday season, with its traffic and crowds, is a different story. If you are already feeling on edge, try to notice your internal state, do not push yourself into situations which could cause you to become even more panicky or irritable. The holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint, and you will require some mental stamina and patience to get through it. No need to flood yourself with overstimulation.
Last but not least…
- Gratitude – It is natural to focus on the negative during difficult times. With all that is involved in the holiday season, we can be even more inclined to compare ourselves to others or think about what we are missing in our lives. Focusing on what you do have might not eliminate sadness about missing a loved one or feelings of stress about the season, but perhaps will allow for some of the happiness and appreciation of what you do have to enter your mind and heart too.
When Should I Seek Help?Sometimes, even when we are doing our very best, emotions take over and it is difficult to manage. You should consider talking to a counsellor if you need some support during the difficult season, and especially if you are experiencing any of the following:
- Persistent sadness or tearfulness
- Feeling overwhelmed seemingly out of nowhere (e.g. at the store, in traffic, while home alone)
- Constant irritability
- Trouble concentrating at work
- Feeling on edge/trapped/overly vigilant
- Feeling distress in relationships, increased conflict with your loved ones, or just unable to express yourself
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Feeling unable to feel any positive emotions, feeling numb or disconnected from everyone
- Experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or someone else
- Feeling like bad things are happening to you because you deserve them, as if you are being punished
- Having intrusive memories of negative past events and feeling unable to stop them from coming
- Difficulties sleeping, either falling or staying asleep, or having nightmares
This is not an inclusive list. If you are wondering if talking to someone might help with whatever difficulty you are experiencing, please call us at 250-868-0221 and we will be happy to advise. We offer both registered clinical counselling and naturopathic medicine to help provide you with the tools you need this holiday. Remember, when things are hard, you should not have to manage by yourself. Help is available, contact us today.
Written by Tara Irwin, RCC