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Keep Calm During the Holidays

The holidays are often a combination of wonderful and stressful, especially when families get together. Children and adults can feel overwhelmed by the change in routine and increase in sensory input all around (think: the lights, the music, the smells, the traffic, the crowds of people). The stress and anxiety around the holidays can cause many people to turn to bad habits and over-indulgences of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Instead of giving into the stress of the holidays, allow it to be an opportunity to practice self-care. We can care for ourselves by maintaining appropriate boundaries with our loved ones, saying no to non-essential obligations, and finding moments of peace among the chaos.

Incorporating self-care will help release some of the worry and stress, and instead bring more calm and enjoyment to your family this holiday season.

Set Reasonable Expectations

  • Create a holiday "To-Do" List. With so many things to get done around the holidays, you don't want to forget to buy a gift for someone or pick up that important ingredient for your holiday meal. Help clear your mind and organize your thoughts by putting it on a physical list (paper or electronic), and mark items with the highest priority. Taking the time to jot them down will keep you focused and reduce the risk of forgetting those items.

  • No holiday celebration is perfect. Anything that does not go according to plan provides you with an opportunity to practice your flexibility and resilience. A crooked tree or a burned dinner won’t ruin your holiday — it will create a family memory.

  • Help your kids understand the value of your holiday. School-aged kids are often aware that there are a variety of different holidays and traditions celebrated in the homes of their classmates. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss your own family traditions and how they might have changed over time. You can encourage your child to be curious about how other families celebrate the holidays. Not everyone needs to be the same. It is important to teach open-mindedness about others and their celebrations.

  • Help your kids understand develop reasonable expectations too. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, take it as an opportunity to remind them that presents are not what's important during the holidays. Depending on your child's age, this can be an opportunity to teach your child about the value of money and responsible spending.

  • Plan ahead and decide what is important. Accept your limitations at this time. These limitations won’t last forever. If it is too much for you to do, do not decorate your home, send cards or cook.

  • Keep things in perspective the holiday season is short, though it feels long while we’re in it. There will be time after the holidays to follow up or accomplish any tasks that were overlooked during the chaos.

Social Connection

  • We know that strong, supportive relationships help us manage all kinds of challenges.

  • We can view the holidays as a time to reconnect with the positive people in our lives.

  • Accepting help and support from those who care about us can help alleviate stress.

  • Volunteering at a local charity on our own or with family can be another way to make connections; helping others often makes us feel better, too.

  • There are some conversation topics that cause strain between family members. It’s important to have healthy conversations, but also to be mindful of when the discussion escalates and becomes unproductive.

Communication Tips

  • Be open and kind when talking about topics you may disagree on. Be mindful of your words and tone.

  • Listen: Actively listen to the other person about what is important to them. That will help you find common ground.

  • Keep Calm When Tensions Rise: Try taking deep breaths when you find yourself getting worked up, or politely change the topic of conversation. Being aware of your emotions and keeping yourself calm will help you to lessen tension with others.

  • Agree to Disagree: Your personal opinions and beliefs make you unique. Use these conversations as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best.

  • Remember who you are talking to. It may be a family member or someone important to you. Be mindful of the ways you speak to others during the holidays, as combative conversations could have potential to negatively affect the relationship in the future.

Grief and Grieving

  • The holidays can be a hard time after a loss. It can be challenging to be with family and to be alone.

  • Just because your loved one is not with you physically, you do not have to pretend as though they never existed. Holidays are a good time to share memories of your loved one.

  • Honor the memory of the beloved in special ways that have meaning to you.

Calm Your Body, Calm Your Mind

  • Taking a minute to calm your body will help your mind follow suit. If you are able to find moments to step away from the chaos, do so.

  • You probably already know which situations stress you out the most (interacting with certain relatives, going holiday shopping, doing festive activities with the kids). Just as you might prepare yourself for an anxiety-provoking presentation at work by doing breathing exercises or putting on your most confidence-boosting power suit, you can take steps to prevent your nerves from seeping into your holiday activities.

  • Take a minute to focus on gratitude and the things that have been going well in your day.

  • Take small sensory-focused breaks before you get overstimulated, this will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed.

  • Sight: Take a moment to visually take in what's around you. Focus on one thing at a time to prevent getting overwhelmed. Light a fire to watch the flames flicker, or focus your attention on the details of a specific decoration or centerpiece.

  • Sound: Put on your favorite music, or sing/hum a song that you know will shift your mood. Holiday music can feel repetitive and deter you from relaxation! Another way to cue into your hearing sense is to focus on the rain falling against the roof or windows.

  • Smell: There are so many scents during the holiday season, it can be overstimulating. Spray a calming scent into the air to revitalize or relax you (eg. lemon, lavender, cinnamon, chamomile). Step outside and take a deep breath of the fresh air.

  • Touch: Wrap yourself up in your favorite blanket, wear your most comfortable clothes, take a warm bath, get a massage, or ask for a hug to activate your sense of touch.

  • Taste: Apply mindfulness to the way you eat. Focus on the temperature, the texture, the flavor of each bite. This will help you appreciate the work that went into cooking the food, and it will help you slow down during meals.

  • Be kind to your body. The stress of the holidays cause many people to lean on their bad habits or overindulge in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

  • Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. It may seem like a challenge with so much to do this time of year, but taking care of yourself during the holidays helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with stress.

Remember what’s important

  • Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season.

  • Remind yourself that family, friends and the relationships are what matter most.

  • Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do. Others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries.

Adapted from American Psychological Association (APA) & Psychology Today.

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