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7 Tips to Manage Holiday Stress

The air is getting cooler, the sun is setting earlier, and holiday season is finally upon us. While the holidays can be an exciting time to get together with loved ones and celebrate, it can also lead to feelings of stress, frustration, loneliness, and overwhelm. Here are 7 tips you can use to help manage difficult emotions and care for yourself this holiday season:

1. Cope ahead or create an intention.

If you’re expecting to have tough experiences during your holiday season, why not prepare for it as you would prepare for anything else? Prepare for the holidays by identifying what situations usually tick you off, who usually ticks you off, and how you would like to cope with these stressors. Whether you’re spending the holidays alone or with others, coping ahead can help alleviate stress by deciding ahead of time how you would like to handle difficult experiences or feelings. Think about how you would like to approach your holiday season by creating an intention or mantra that you can return to if you begin to feel overwhelmed or off-balance.

2. Observe negative thoughts and check the facts.

“I’ll never be able to handle the holidays.”

“My brother-in-law is going to get too drunk again.”

“Oh boy, this is going to be a repeat of the disaster that happened last year.”

Whoa! Those are some heavy thoughts coming up! If you notice yourself having negative or judgmental thoughts, imagine viewing them on an assembly line in front of you. Observe the thought, be curious and nonjudgmental about the thought, and let it drift away from you down the assembly line. If observing your thoughts feels too challenging, try checking the facts. Think about the facts of the situation and try to be as objective as possible. Once you’ve identified the facts, consider reframing your negative thought to be more objective and fact-based. Being curious and nonjudgmental about your thoughts allows you to create distance between the thought and yourself, rather than allowing one negative thought to sour your mood.

3. Reduce your vulnerability to tough emotions.

Remember the Snickers candy commercials where the baby is having a temper tantrum, and after he eats a Snickers bar he turns into a calm and rational adult? The reason that commercial works is because we’re often grumpier and more likely to have a temper tantrum when we’re hungry! Think about what makes you more vulnerable to a bad mood, and steer clear of those mood manipulators. Eating healthy and filling meals, exercising, getting enough sleep, caring for yourself if you feel sick, taking prescribed medications and vitamins, and avoiding mood-altering substances are all ways to reduce vulnerability to feelings of grouchiness, stress, and irritability. Reducing your vulnerabilities can be as simple as eating breakfast when you usually skip it or refraining from drinking that third glass of wine!

4. Self-soothe.

Get out of your head and calm your nerves by using your five senses. Think about different ways to soothe your senses of vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Make a cup of hot coffee or tea in the morning, and soothe your senses of touch, smell and taste by holding the warm mug in your hands and drinking your beverage as slowly and mindfully as you can. Soothe your senses of hearing and touch by turning on calming music when you take a shower and relax into the moment.

5. Use communication skills to get your needs met.

Spending time with family or friends over the holidays can be an excellent time to squeeze in some interpersonal skill practice. Maintain your self-respect by saying “no” to requests you do not want to do. Say “yes” to things you are interested in doing. Utilize “I language” to effectively communicate how another person’s behaviors impact you by following this script:

“I feel ______ (your emotion), when you ______ (other person’s behavior),

because ______ (consequence of other person’s behavior).”

6. Practice sitting with discomfort.

Perhaps your go-to strategy for dealing with stress is smoking a cigarette. Maybe it’s online shopping or zoning out in front of the television. While distracting from negative emotions certainly has its place, it can also be useful to practice sitting with and experiencing feelings of discomfort. Over the holidays, if you notice yourself feeling frustrated, nervous or sad, and if it feels tolerable enough to sit with, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Right now, what sensations do I notice in my body?”

  • “Right now, what thoughts are going through my head?”

  • “Right now, what emotions am I feeling?”

Be curious and nonjudgmental about your answers. Remind yourself that whatever emotion you’re experiencing is temporary. Each time you practice sitting with uncomfortable emotions, you’re strengthening your ability to tolerate similarly difficult emotions in the future. Exercise your mind and strengthen your emotional resilience!

7. Radical acceptance.

You can use all of the coping skills in the world, and you may still end up in a situation that you dislike or hoped would be different. Radical acceptance can be used if you’re unable to keep painful events or emotions from coming towards you. Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in feeling of bitterness, hopelessness, or resentment.

Radical acceptance is accepting the situation you are currently in; not the situation you want to be in, and not the situation you think is fair. Radical acceptance is NOT agreeing with the situation, approving of it, or even liking it. Nor is it being complacent in a situation where you are being physically or emotionally abused. It is recognizing and accepting that reality is what it is. If you are in a batting cage and refuse to accept that baseballs are being hurled towards you, it will not make the baseballs go away. If you accept the situation you are in, it gives you more space to tolerate your emotions and make changes where you are able to make change.

Practice radical acceptance by noticing if you are questioning or fighting reality by thinking “it shouldn’t be this way” or “why me?”. Remind yourself that the reality cannot be changed and that there are causes for the reality. Practice accepting your situation with your mind, body and spirit.

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