The weather is changing, the days are getting shorter, and no matter where you go there is already holiday music playing. This season is a stressful time of year for most people. No matter if, how or what you may observe, the “Holiday Blues” can start to take hold of the best of us. Yes, even the “us” that’s got our morning routines and nightly journaling on lock. These next few months might feel like a revolving door of seeing family, spending outside of your budget, feeling generally overwhelmed or even lonely. It’s okay, holiday stress is NORMAL! And there are simple tools that you can use to mitigate stress, anxiety, and overwhelm this time of year.
What is Holiday Stress?
Stress around the holidays can make it difficult to be present and enjoy the things that are happening around you. For those who may already be healing from or experiencing forms of trauma, anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges this time can be even more difficult. Nearly two thirds of people who experience mental health symptoms report that the holidays amplify their existing condition.
You might be wondering, “Is this what I’m experiencing?”, “Is it why I’ve been feeling so much anticipation lately?” Probably, Sis! But to give you a better idea, holiday stress can look like:
Feeling anxiety about family functions and expectations
Experiencing a lack of boundaries and/or uncomfortable emotions
A reemergence of difficult memories or feelings of loneliness
Struggles with personal goals around eating or exercise
Feeling triggered by difficult interactions or thoughts
Why does Holiday Stress happen?
Around this time of year stress can often be linked to experiences and emotions from our past that are triggered by the environment of our present. Maybe it’s spending more time around family, being overextended because of end-of-year pressures or letting go of well practiced self-care rituals. Having more frequent connection with family and friends or being in close quarters for extended periods of time might bring up frustrations, anger and disappointment. Not having family to visit or having strained family relationships might bring up feelings of grief and loneliness.
The good news is that there are simple gifts (that are free!) that you can give yourself, to make this time of year a little easier.
First, let’s take a moment to reflect. Maybe even grab a piece of paper or just clear some space in your mind for a moment.
What are a few things that are the most stressful about this time of year? Family, finances, change, loneliness?
Are there difficult memories that the holidays bring up? From your childhood or maybe more recent years?
What feelings come up for you when you think about the holidays? Disappointment, overwhelm, frustration, anger?
Sometimes, just acknowledging the stressors and triggers is the first part of the battle. CHECK! One thing off the to-do list!
Now that you’ve started to think about how the holiday season impacts you the most, you’re well equipped to identify what tools will be most helpful.
5 Tools to manage Holiday Stress
Here are some things you can practice before, during and even after the holiday season to show up for yourself through all the ups and downs. Remember, taking care of your needs is not selfish, it’s SELF-CARE.
Find joy in the little things! Find small opportunities to savor moments of happiness. Maybe it’s the feeling of a soft blanket, drinking a warm cup of tea, reading your favorite book, lighting a candle or listening to holiday music. Find time to be mindful of simple pleasures, pause, slow down and take everything one moment at a time.
Set boundaries and limits! Boundaries are a healthy way to maintain your own expectations and enforce the things that feel right for you. If you wouldn’t let it happen to your best friend or a child, don’t allow it for yourself. It’s ok to:
Turn down invitations
Not hug someone
Excuse yourself from tough or triggering conversations
Change your mind
Disagree with others perspectives
Leave when you’re ready
Establish a sustainable budget! It can be easy to overspend any time of year, but especially around the holidays. For many, spending can also become a coping mechanism or sense of relief. Work to establish a budget that helps you stay stress-free, but not restricted. Set gift limits, talk to your family about cost effective gatherings, make tough decisions on non-essentials or say no to that extra get together or trip out of town.
Rest, nurture and soothe yourself! It’s easy to put the needs of others before our own, but we have to put on our own oxygen mask first. Use this opportunity to ruthlessly prioritize your own self-care practice. Here are some examples to try incorporating:
Journaling to help acknowledge feelings that might be coming up for you
Affirmations to remind yourself that you are worthy
Taking a bath or soothing shower
Doing a short breathing practice
Going for a walk
Taking 5 deep breaths (we’ve all got time for that)
Finally, Engage in play! The holidays are a time when shame can come up for “childish” or “immature” feelings. But it can also be a time to express and care for our inner child. Find play activities that feel safe and accessible for you. Try tossing a ball, coloring, building a snowman, making a gingerbread house, riding a bike or playing a boardgame. What’s it like to let go of some of your own expectations and responsibilities for a little while and enjoy some fun?
You don't have to go through this alone. If you find yourself feeling stuck or would like to be proactive about caring for your mental health, seek help from a licensed professional. To get started, check out directories like openpathcollective, therapyforblackgirls, and latinxtherapist.
be Morr is a culturally affirming therapeutic community in New York City where Women of Color receive Mental Health services by WOC individually and in community. To learn more about our services, please visit www.bemorrcounseling.com