Written by Lauren Helm, M.A.
When the holidays are here, there can be great potential for joy, but also, great potential for stress. The holidays may entail numerous stressors, including a significant change in routine, exposure to large crowds of people while shopping, financial strain, feeling under pressure from expectations of others or yourself, and relationship stress or conflict. However, there are many ways that we can take care of ourselves in order to connect with the potential for rich, fulfilling experiences with loved ones while we celebrate during the holidays.
- Clarify what you value
- Instead of going through the motions while participating in holiday celebrations, take some time to reflect upon what it is that you find most meaningful about these times. What is truly most important to you? What experience would you like to actively participate in creating? If you can allow your values to guide your actions during holiday activities, you may find that the quality of your experiences deepen.
- Practice emotional awareness
- It’s not always easy, but checking in for a moment and tuning into your emotions can help to give you additional information about how you are responding to potential holiday stressors. Take a slow, deep breath and pay attention, nonjudgmentally, to your feelings as they arise. If you allow them to come and go without reflexively reacting, you can consciously decide to act in the most effective manner in a given situation. Mindfulness can be particularly helpful for practicing a healthy way of relating to your emotions. Free mindfulness meditations and exercises can be found here
- Adopt a flexible attitude
- Keep in mind that change is constant. Change can be very stressful, but new experiences can also provide excitement and enrichment to your life. Change offers many opportunities for growth – our response to change may determine whether we get “stuck” in fighting with the change of routine that occurs during the holidays, or whether we can be flexible and allow change without resistance – we may even find that we enjoy the ride!
- Maintain a healthy, balanced routine
- Even though your schedule may be different than usual, commit to creating balance in whatever ways are possible and supportive for you during this time. That might mean making regular sleep a priority, making healthy food choices, and continuing to engage in exercise. Avoid overscheduling yourself during this time, and ask for help from others if needed.
- Practice compassion for others and self-compassion
- Compassion for others and self-compassion can enhance any experience that we have, and help us to let go of unhelpful expectations of ourselves or others. We are all human and imperfect. Choosing to practice compassion towards family and friends may reduce tension and stress during the holidays. Your relationship with yourself also will greatly affect your experience of the moment. Think of practicing compassion towards yourself as a great holiday gift that you can give yourself, over and over again. Learn more about self-compassion here.
- Remember gratitude
- Gratitude is one of the biggest predictors of happiness. It may be easy to get swept away in our “wants” and feeling that we are lacking something. Gratitude can help us shift out of a mindset of “incompleteness” into a recognition that there are likely multiple experiences, things, or relationships that we can be grateful for. Bringing attention to what you are grateful for allows you to practice soaking in pleasant experiences, instead of stewing mostly on what you don’t like or have. Learn more about the science behind gratitude here.
- Be mindful of moments of joy and love
- Allow yourself to fully notice and experience when joy and love naturally arise within you. Pay attention to how it feels in your body, and how it feels to share it. Allow yourself to take note of what generated the feelings of love and warmth. This may help you better tune into what is important to you, and what you might want to invest your energy in cultivating more of in your life. Read more about the science of sharing joy here.
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