When it's not so merry...
Contributed by Tracie Keller, LPCC-S
It’s that time of the year, when colder weather comes in and holiday lights go up. Everyone is sharing their pictures of whatever festivity they participate in. It’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year…
But what happens when the holiday season is a more challenging time for some of us?
I recently gave two talks in the community on preparing for the holiday season, and specifically how to cope with depression and anxiety during these “merry” times. I was blown away at each of these talks by the audience member’s responses to discussions around holiday gatherings, how to appropriately cope and take care of one’s self, and ways to avoid burnout or over-doing it during this time.
This is why I’m going to list here the top 6 ways that you can take care of yourself this holiday season, and reduce stress in order to better enjoy it. If you are a person who lives with depression or anxiety, listen up, because these tips may be even more necessary in getting through the next 4-6 weeks.
Connection is a powerful way that we can fight stress, as well as risk for depression. We are bred for connection, and it is hard wired into us. So why is it that we find it so hard to connect deeply? In a simple answer: our current world and culture.
Ways that you can authentically connect this time of year:
—Reach out to a friend who you genuinely want to see or talk to. Plan a get together with him or her. Talk about your life (even the imperfections…actually, ESPECIALLY the imperfections!).
—Volunteer in the community or participate in a community event. MAKE connections.
Set realistic expectations
Seriously. This one, though. All of the ads that have been playing lately regarding the newest gadgets, the best toys…TUNE THEM OUT. If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it. Set a budget and STICK to it. If you don’t like your family 90% of the year, stop telling yourself that this is when you should swallow that and “enjoy” being with them. It’s not possible for you to attend every gathering and not lose your balance. Just be honest with yourself, and others… (which leads me to my next point)
Be assertive. Use “I” statements, i.e. “I cannot make it to your holiday party.” Be validating, i.e. “I appreciate your invitation.” I love to use the “sandwich method” with communicating effectively—It’s one part direct statement, sandwiched between two truths that are also validating. Example: “I so appreciate that you want me to join you for [fill in holiday event/excursion/responsibility]; however, I can’t make it this year. I would love to plan something for another time though.”
Set priorities and boundaries
Make decisions for your time that fuel you, not drain you. I often ask myself whether saying yes to something will make me feel resentful at all in the future. If I say yes? I SAY NO. Practice it. And if you think that boundaries will make relationships suffer, I will point you to a whole host of information that says that this is not the case. Boundaries make better relationships. You know that old phrase, “Fences make good neighbors?” That’s what that was about! Learn it.
Maintain the good
If exercise helps you cope the rest of the year, why would you consider dropping it or trading it out this time of the year? Keep it up. Keep up the things that make you feel good. If you like movement, add a family/friend walk on the day of an activity. If healthy eating is important to you, start a new tradition of bringing or making a healthy dish for each gathering you attend. Don’t drop you this season. You are worth it.
Be in the moment
This one is hard. There are lots of reasons to be thinking about…well, anything else other than the present moment. Perhaps you find yourself noticing that your mind wanders toward the future or back to the past. If this is the case, just notice it…and return back to whatever you are doing. Enjoy the moment. Drink it up. Mindfulness practice helps immune function by lowering stress hormones. So challenge comparisons to others, last season, or future experiences. Be where you are, when you’re there.
The holidays can be great, but they can also present a whole host of reasons for anxiety or risk for depression. Do your loved ones and yourself a favor this year, and focus on you. Also remind yourself that it’s okay not be so “merry.” Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to give ourselves grace.
Happy Holidays, Keller Counseling.