4 Tips On Navigating the Holiday Season

It may come as no surprise, but December is a busy month in the world of counselling. The shorter, darker days combined with familial and social expectations, gift-giving and the looming New Year can feel like a bit much to handle. Whether you already experience anxiety and depression, or you just feel a bit overwhelmed this holiday season, you may find it useful to prepare for the coming days.

Here are 4 quick tips and reminders to help weather emotional storms during the Holiday Season. Think of these as preparedness plans - they are great to have, even if you don’t use them.

1. Tradition is not law.  You know those cookies you bake, every year that no one can do without? Well, I am here to tell you that you will not be thrown in holiday prison if they are just too much for you this year. We all see people pull their hair out, frazzled and worn down trying to make sure that every year is exactly the same: same treats, same decorations, same music, same smiling face, same holiday burnout.  Take the opportunity this year to take stock.  What do you want to do?  Which holiday traditions are actually enjoyable for you and your family?  If anything causes stress and worry, maybe it’s time to make a change. If it comes down to ginger snaps or your sanity, I bet your family (and you) would much rather have you sane.

2. Every day is the New Year. If you are one of those lucky few who use New Year's Resolutions to make changes that last forever, I commend you.  For many of us, however, New Year’s Day can bring on a sense of dread, or a reminder of decades of failed resolutions. But I am going to just put this here: the calendar is made up. New Year’s is just another day. In terms of judging your value and accomplishments, you can make changes now, tomorrow, three weeks from now, or any other time you feel like it. Just because you see the 2016 turn to 2017 doesn’t mean that your ups and downs are any more or less real. Focus on today. If you want to make change, go ahead. If you don’t, that's ok too. Don’t wrap your self-worth up in an arbitrary date -  you are worth more than that.

3. Give energy to those who energize you. The truth is, family can sometimes be exhausting, and the holiday season can make family dynamics seem more pronounced. Uncle Fred, unless he has some bump-on-the-head Christmas movie revelations, will probably stay the self-absorbed jerk he’s always been and you are probably not going to change that. This holiday season, consider that your “fill in intolerable relative here” is someone that you most likely will only have to put up with for a few days. This, too, shall pass. If you can, smile and nod at Fred, he probably won’t notice the difference. Instead of letting him get to you, really take some time this year to consider who you want to invest your energy into. Maybe it’s the new baby in the family, your favorite aunt, or yourself. Fred has issues, be ok with the fact that you aren’t going to solve them over eggnog and rage-inducing dinner topics.

4. Always have an emergency escape plan. When things get tough, get out.  I don’t mean run screaming from your house (unless you want to), but find some time to cool down, reset, and breathe.  Stress makes us tense, and being tense stresses us out.  Interrupt the cycle - take a few extra minutes in the bathroom, walk to the end of the driveway and back, volunteer to go on a solo mission for the missing dinner ingredient, play with a child young enough to crack a smile playing peek-a-boo.  However you can get it, find a way to break up those “oh-my-god I’m going to lose my mind” type thoughts as tensions and expectations rise.  Allow for a reset, remember the tips above, and breathe - even 4 slow, deep, even breaths have been shown to slow down that internal alarm system.

Venture forth into the season, enjoy what is out there to be enjoyed, and let the rest slip on by.  Happy Holidays.