The holiday season can be a time of joy and cheer. It can be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with loved ones. At the same time, these holiday gatherings can bring up feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Here are five tips from our therapists on how to manage all of the different feelings that may come up in these next few weeks.
Give yourself permission to eat and enjoy food
As you get together with your friends and family, you may find yourself surrounded by tables full of food. This can be a tricky experience for many folks, who find themselves wrestling with the desire to eat these foods and the guilt and the shame that can come up afterwards. In a society that is constantly talking about diet culture and weight loss, it can feel like your only choices are to restrict yourself or to go all out (and restrict yourself after doing so).
Rather than being pulled in two directions, we encourage you to let yourself eat and enjoy the foods that you love. It can be helpful to practice mindful eating and a body neutrality framework. Mindful eating looks like intentionally noticing your experience as you are eating – what do I want to eat, am I enjoying this food, how is it making me feel? A body neutrality framework encourages us to think about our bodies as our neutral, physical forms. This is the body that I am in. Whether or not my body fluctuates with what I eat, this does not change anything about me as a person. It can also be helpful to practice adding instead of subtracting when it comes to food.
For example, if you find that your body isn’t feeling satisfied with the foods you’re eating, you can always add different types of food for more balance (adding a protein to a carbohydrate-heavy dish, or adding some fruits in between meals).
Set boundaries with your family to reduce stress
It can be wonderful to be able to have the opportunity to visit family during the holidays. But, it can also be intensely anxiety-inducing and stressful. It is okay for you to feel the need to protect your mental health around your family, and it is more than okay to take steps in order to do so. To start, it can be helpful to know your limits and what you can and cannot handle, especially in the context of other stressors already happening in your life. It might not be possible to meet your family’s expectations for time together, and you might need to adjust your own expectations for how much time you can realistically spend with your family.
Once you have determined what you are able to do, it is important to communicate your boundaries kindly, simply, and directly.
This can be challenging, especially if your family is not accustomed to hearing boundaries from you. It can help to remind yourself that, ultimately, setting these boundaries will make it easier for you to see your family in the long run. An example of a verbal boundary looks like expressing how you feel and sharing what you need. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed with juggling work and family time, and I need to leave early from the party.” Another example, “I don’t like when you comment on my body / my romantic relationships, and I am not going to continue this conversation until we switch topics.”
Remember, a boundary is just stating your comfort zone or where you stand. Once you’ve set the boundary, you have to follow through. If the other person does not accept or respect your boundary, you are allowed to end the interaction. Other examples of boundary setting can include: driving separately to family functions, planning to stay a short period of time, redirecting conversations, and saying no.
Consider your relationships
With all of these social gatherings, it can be a challenge to balance time for yourself, your friends, your family, and your partner. It is okay for you to be busy and for these different areas of your life to get out of balance. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, too much time with too many loved ones can be overwhelming and exhausting. Not all of your relationships are going to feel restorative or recharging, and that is okay. Prioritize time with the loved ones who energize you, and carve out time after social gatherings to decompress and take care of yourself.
If you have a romantic partner, you and your partner might find that you are not getting much time together. Or, you might find that the two of you are feeling tense from the stress of spending time with your in-laws. It can be helpful to set aside intentional time to connect with your partner, separate from family and in-law time. This can look like time together after a family gathering, or a date night during the week. It can also be helpful to talk to your partner about ways that you can support each other amidst this holiday stress. It can also be helpful to have compassion and understanding for yourself and your partner, if your families are giving you a hard time.
Allow yourself to grieve
Grief is a process without a timeline, and it is normal for feelings of sadness and pain to come in waves, especially this time of the year. You may be finding it particularly difficult to try to enjoy your various gatherings while you are missing a loved one. It is okay to express these feelings, and it is okay to struggle with the traditions that you used to share with them. Let yourself remember your loved one. Let yourself be authentic and vulnerable with your friends and family.
It can help you to reminisce with others who are missing them and to share memories you have of them. It can also help to decide whether you want to keep your old traditions, make changes, or create new ones entirely. Perhaps your loved one had a favorite dessert, and that’s something you’d like to incorporate into your holiday dinner. Or maybe they liked to decorate a certain way, and their favorite ornament is something you can display prominently. However you may decide to grieve, know that it is okay. There’s no right or wrong way to remember your loved one.
Practice self-kindness and self-compassion
The holidays can be extremely busy, and you might find that your normal routines go out of the window. As difficult as it can be, it is important to practice kindness and compassion in regard to yourself by making the time to breathe and practice self-care. As much as possible, try to keep some of your normal routines (your daily walk, your weekly outing, your hobby, etc.). Realistically, you will not be able to do everything that you might want to do, and that is okay. Your plans do not have to go the way you want them to, and things do not have to be perfect. It is not a bad thing to choose the things that you want to prioritize, and you are not a bad person or a failure for not doing it all.
If your friends or family are contributing to your stress, that does not make you a bad friend, sibling, child, parent, etc.
You are allowed to take space from your loved ones to ground yourself. It is the kind thing to do for yourself, and it also means that you will be able to continue spending time with your loved ones. If you find yourself feeling lonely, reach out to friends who would be happy to join you for an outing, or think about how you might get involved with your local community. If you find yourself wanting a romantic partner, it is okay to want that, especially if you find yourself surrounded by couples and families. Any and all feelings about wanting a date are valid. Still, it can help to remind yourself that you can be happy and enjoy your holiday season without one.
Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed with endless responsibilities or struggling to manage all the social interaction, we encourage you to take the time to care for yourself. It can feel like you ‘just have to push through,’ and then it will be over. And while it is true that these times will pass, you do not have to push yourself to the point of burn out just to make it through the holidays. You are allowed to do what you need to do in order to enjoy your holiday season.
Begin Working with A Stress Management Therapist at Yellow Chair Collective
You may be struggling to manage the stress and grief that the holidays can bring. That is okay. At Yellow Chair Collective, we believe that taking the time and space for yourself can help you move through difficult times. To seek support today, follow these simple steps below to find a therapist at our California and New York-based counseling center:
- Contact us so we can learn more about you
- Start attending sessions with one of our caring therapists
- Learn to prioritize yourself during stressful times
Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective
Our team knows that the holiday can bring with them a variety of mental health concerns. This is why the therapists at our Los Angeles and New York City-based counseling center are competent in various areas. They work with teens, individuals and couples. They can address issues such as anxiety, postpartum therapy, and trauma and PTSD. Additionally, they can provide culturally sensitive treatment for highly sensitive people, burnout, workshops for organizations, and EMDR. All of these services can be utilized in-person or online anywhere in California or New York.