It’s the most _____ time of the year.

Nov 19, 2018

You have just seen your first Christmas decoration.  How do you feel?

Sad? Panicked? Stressed?

It’s happening.
The stores are full of decorations, the invitations are starting to come in and you feel like you just put your summer furniture away in the shed. Right?

The Holidays:
Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, if you are anything like me, you are starting to feel the pressure building. For me this time of year is one that I wish could be full of hot chocolate, baking, holiday shopping and decorations. However, what I have started to experience and what I know several of my clients struggle with, is the unspoken stressors of the holiday season. The reality is that this time of year can be really tough for a number of reasons, and we don’t really talk about that part of the holidays. Like many of my other blog posts, I am going to try and shed some light on the part of the holidays that is not so jolly.

So here we go:
Read and see whether you fall into any of these categories:
1. You overwhelm yourself with events and have every weekend booked from now until into the new year.
2. You struggle with social situations and are anticipating several stressful and anxiety
provoking situations coming in the next couple months.
3. You do not have the family that you see on the Hallmark cards and thus, dread this time of
year because of loneliness, isolation and dread.
4. You struggle with the overwhelming desire to make things absolutely perfect so you see the
holidays as another time to perform, achieve and “should”
5. You struggle with not feeling your best emotionally and this time of year brings a lot of
pressure to be happy all the time.
6. You have a Mental Illness such as Depression, Anxiety, PTSD or an Eating Disorder or
substance abuse which makes this time of year extremely hard.
7. You are struggling with some sort of loss and grief around the holidays is hard.
Here is a very quick very general set of recommendations to help you cope with getting through “the most wonderful time of the year.”
(Disclaimer: The hardest part of my job as a therapist is encouraging people to engage in coping strategies that seem obvious, corny or idealistic. Try and open your mind… it WILL make a difference).

First up: Identify YOUR priorities:

I want to ask you to take a moment, let’s say 5 minutes to identify what the 4 most important things in your life are right now. Look at the list and identify only 2 key areas that you would like to focus on.
Here are mine:

1. Family : Being supportive and keeping traditions with my larger family.

What I will do:  Reflect and think about what I like about the season and saying yes to those things, potentially crossing some things off my list that are not necessary for me to attend.

2. Relationship: Maintaining connection with my husband.

What I will do: Try to do some things that I would typically do alone (shopping, cooking), together so that I involve him more and resist the urge to do everything myself.

3. Parenting: Making memories for my kids

What I will do: Agree to do 3 special things over the holidays- not EVERY THING they want to do or were invited to do.

4. Career : Supporting my clients through the holidays, while getting to take part in my own holiday.

What I will do: I will take some time off for myself this holiday season even though I know that this is a tough time for people.

Next, Boundaries:
Boundaries and learning to say NO is something that consistently comes up in my work with my clients. Boundaries can be emotional, physical and spiritual. This time of year it is important to take a moment to pause and actually connect to what is important (your list above) and what can go, really analyzing what is a “should” . One of my clients made the suggestion to resist RSVP’ing to anything until a week before the event (sorry hosts;) This way she can see where her stress level is and whether or not this event would add to her life or take from her sanity.
Part of boundary setting is also letting of trying to make everything perfect. No one ever remembered the party you hosted because of the awesome doilies you had (do people still use doilies?) Your kids will not remember the perfectly curled ribbon, their perfect Christmas outfit they wore, the Christmas card they took or the perfect teacher gift they gave. We tend to over complicate things when simplicity and memories are what matters. Focus on making memories and not making things.
If you are a parent teaching your kids that they do not have to take part in everything teaches them the value of being present, the joy of the moments they do have with their friends rather than just shuffling along to every single party or get together.
Saying NO protects your energy. I remember my first Christmas with both of my kids. We did everything and I tried so hard to get them everything and do everything. By the time we got to my favourite part of Christmas which is boxing day at my Moms, I had two way overtired kids who quite frankly ruined the day for me. (yup I said it;))

Next, Be Mindful:
Being mindful it simply means doing one thing at a time and paying attention to all of your senses while doing it. Yes, can you think of the last time you did that? I recommend starting by trying to just do 1 thing at a time.

Here are some specific tips to help with mindfulness:
1. Put your devices away.
2. Focus on your breath. Breathing in for 4 and out for 4 is really helpful and can be done basically wherever you are.
3. Encourage those around you to take part. It is hard to be mindful when you are surrounded by people who are not sitting still, looking at their phones and doing 5 things at once.
4. Whatever task you are doing go through the 5 senses and identify each of them. What you see, what you smell, what you hear, what you taste and what you feel.
5. Practice saying some grounding phrases. “I am here” “This moment is important” “ I am thankful” “ I am okay”

Finally, Practice Compassion and Self Care:
This is the tough one.
If you are one of the people that has a hard time this time of year it is so important for you to make sure that you are taking extra time for yourself. You are likely the type of person who needs alone time to recharge (me too;)
1. Perhaps taking some time off of work to get away from the holiday hoopla in the workplace.                                                                                            2. Try to arrange a distraction that you can take part in that does not involve holiday type
3. Allow yourself to feel the negative emotions and get the support you need to process them.
I find that a lot of my clients need extra support this time of year. Trust me that it is worth taking the time to talk through some of these feelings, whether that is with a friend or a professional taking that step is important.
4. Brainstorm a new tradition that you can start that is completely yours, no memories attached to anything, just you and your needs.
5. Watch your coping mechanisms, make sure that this is not an excuse to engage in symptoms that you know are not good for your overall health. Whether that be isolating, drinking, eating or overworking try and identify and recognize the warning signs before things get worse.
At the end of the day my main message is to try and simplify things. Narrow your focus and imagine what things would be like if we didn’t have all the “stuff” around us.

After you finish reading this post, take a couple of minutes to identify 2 things that you would like to try and put into practice this holiday season.