There are few phrases that strike quite as much terror into a planner’s heart like “the holidays are coming!”
It doesn’t matter which holiday it is, there are expectations - the desire to look like a perfect family, feasts to plan, budgets to make, the realization that everything costs more this year, differing diets to plan around, possibly new clothes to buy, decorations to put up, and that’s all to think about before actual holiday! Just looking at increasing prices and decreasing budgets can even make Mr. Scrooge's penny pinching understandable.
Then there’s the parties. For some people, being around alcohol is an anxiety trigger, or more severely, an addiction trigger. For others, just being around a lot of people can be difficult. Eating disorders and other food problems tend to have potential hazards around every corner this time of year. Any mental or physical health problem you deal with during the rest of the year can be exacerbated by the holidays. It’s no wonder that people rate the end of year holidays as the most stressful time of year. It’s enough to make anyone feel like the Grinch!
The good news is that there are ways to deal with holiday specific stress!!
First is to always make sure you’re taking the time to take care of you.
If you don’t handle day to day stress without a cup of coffee, don’t skip it in the name of time now.
If you need an hour of alone time to recharge daily, don’t let anyone guilt you into staying at the party longer.
Take the time even if you have guests. They can entertain themselves for a bit without you.
PAIR DOWN TO THE ESSENTIALS
Second, take a look at everything on your list.
Does it all have to be done?
If you are traveling, do you need to decorate?
Is a whole turkey too much for your table? Maybe just do a breast. If it’s financially feasible, have your dinner catered.
Does anyone actually like Aunt Ida’s Fruit Cake? Why take the time to make it?
Of course, not everyone gets the holiday blues. My third suggestion for dealing with holiday stress is to enlist one of these people to help you.
Go shopping together.
Maybe share the task of decorating or cooking.
One thing I see a lot is friends or families getting together to have snacks, watch movies, and address cards or bake cookies together.
If your family expects things from you, but doesn’t want to help, you can say no. It is not your responsibility to make the holidays perfect for everyone and you are not responsible for the feelings of others. Does your family have unhealthy traditions or expectations around these holidays? We know that it is hard, but please put your health and safety above the feelings and expectations of others. (Come in for counseling - this is exactly the type of thing we can help with!)
There is another aspect of the holiday stress that goes beyond just “stress” - trauma triggers. While often joked about in the media, social media and maybe even within your own social circles, triggers are often serious interruptions in thought processing, stress handling, and day to day being. If you know what your triggers are, avoid them if possible. We understand that it is not always possible, but if you can avoid or bring a support person with you. If being around certain family members is toxic for you, don’t go to places or events that they are present. If you find yourself unsafe or triggered - please safely leave that situation. No one else's happiness or holiday expectation is worth your health and safety. If you feel safe to do so, you can explain to your hosts why you won’t attend or need to leave - but please let me be clear - you do not owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself. Not this holiday season, not ever.
There are so many potential triggers and emotional traps during this time including alcohol, certain foods, scents, songs, even certain decorations and activities. It’s not wrong to avoid these things if you can. For both holiday blues and the more stressful triggers that may come, therapy is always an option. It may seem like adding one more thing during an already busy time, and it is, but if it helps you get through the holiday season happy, healthy, and still whole, it’s worth it.
Can I suggest something a little more fun to help counter the stress? Make time time to play! Many of the holidays celebrated this time of year have a strong component of child-like wonder - take part in that! You don’t have to be a child to color, or buy the latest toy, or go skating. Go look at holiday lights, build a snowman, sing and dance to silly holiday songs - embrace the good.
No matter what you celebrate, Happy Holidays to you and yours, and may they be safe, healthy, and just the way you want them.
Maria Laquerre is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who specializes in addressing trauma with clients of all ages. Maria has practiced therapy in New Mexico since her return in 2008. Maria's current passion is supporting therapists in doing their best clinical work, which she pursues through offering supervision, consultation and trainings. Maria enjoys spending time with her family, watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, discussing the psychology of pop culture and loves a good book!