Holidays Bringing You Down?

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

From family troubles to money issues or just plain loneliness, many of us experience holiday stress.

What are useful tactics to navigate the holiday season?

1. Lower expectations.

It’s helpful to first get honest about what yours really are. From expecting people to behave, to expecting good weather, write it all down in a list. Cross out the expectations that you realise are unrealistic. What others can you give up? Try to stick to only five remaining expectations.

A 2019 study put out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used brain scans to show that expectations and beliefs actually change the way the brain works, directly dictating our behaviours.

2. Stop playing the comparison game.

Life is not a TV commercial, and your life is not the same as your best friend's or that of the neigbours.

Also watch out for comparing this holiday season to ones past, particularly if you’ve recently suffered a loss. What would it look like if there had never been another holiday and this was your first? What new ritual would you start?

3. Put things off.

Most of the year, avoiding things and putting things off is terrible advice. But sometimes we need to cut ourselves, and others, some slack. Christmas dinner, when stress is already high, is not the time, for example, to bring up an unresolved family argument. If it can wait until January, then see it as self-care to let it.

4. Choose your battles wisely.

Does it really matter if your sister bought canned cranberry sauce? Or if your partner let the kids eat all the chocolate? Or is this energy better saved for letting your brother-in-law know he can't drive home drunk.

Ask yourself, on a scale of one to 10, how worthwhile it is to bother being upset. Getting into the 'rating habit' forces your mind to take a pause, and this tiny pause can be enough to stop overreactions.

5. Time out.

The holiday season can be full on. We forget to schedule in a single minute for ourselves, and then find ourselves about to blow right when all our guests are arriving. If you are about to have a tantrum, then give yourself a toddler timeout. A few minutes locked in the bathroom or hiding in the garden and doing some deep breathing can go a long way.

6. Practice self-compassion.

Got into a fight you promised you wouldn't? Made a mess of the cooking? Compassion for ourselves actually leads to being more compassionate to others, and also raises our self-esteem.

Instead of bullying yourself in your head, try to treat yourself like you would if you were instead a good friend. If it helps, create an alternate nickname for yourself and talk to that person instead of saying ‘I/me’. Although perhaps not out loud when others are around!

7. Learn the magic ‘D’ word.

It’s the secret of successful business types, and it’s also the secret to navigating holiday stress — delegate. If someone else can do it, let them. With each thing on your list ask, who can I ask to help? Is it really only me who can do this well? And does it really matter if it's not done perfectly?

8. Keep to budget.

Debt is a causal factor for depression, and money is behind many marriage problems. If you are careening out of control this holiday season, ask good questions.

What is this overspending really about? What am I trying to compensate for, avoid, or prove? How will I feel about this decision in one month?

9. Lay off the sauce.

Sure, raise a glass. But do keep in mind that alcohol is a chemical depressant. It leads to poor sleep and moodiness. And these lead to snapping at those you love, making bad decisions, and not being fully present. Is this worth the cost of drinking to excess?

10. Stick to the present moment.

Christmas is full of nostalgia traps and possibilities to worry about the future. Make mindfulness your superpower here. A few minutes of focused intention on the present or a mini meditation each day can keep you in the now, the one place we tend to feel okay.

11. Move it, move it, move it.

There might be something to the ‘family walk’ tradition that many have at Christmas. Exercise is now proven by research to improve moods, changing your brain chemistry. If you are feeling particularly deiblitated by stress, anxiety, or depression, see if you can get up and get moving, even if it’s just volunteering to take the kids out to play, or the dog for a walk.

12. Reach out.

Call a trusted and impartial friend if you feel overwhelmed. If your moods are affecting your capacity to cope then consider calling a professional. Nowadays you can squeeze in a counselling session over the internet from the comfort of your home. Sometimes we just need a safe, impartial space to download in and we can find our way back to coping.

Time to have a chat with someone who really gets it? Book a counsellor you like at a price you can afford now, and start talking your way forward.

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