By Christian J. Billington, MA, NCC
The holidays can be a busy time: a time for family, gift giving, reflection, well-established social expectations, and commitments. At the same time, the holidays can exaggerate stress, anxiety, loss, and loneliness. Sometimes the stressors can overwhelm the magic of the season. What follows are a few ideas to help you negotiate these difficulties.
Instead of waiting for problems to erupt, consider strategies and skills ahead of time to help manage holiday stress. These may include personal timeouts; establishing, scheduling, and reinforcing self-care strategies; and balancing undesired activities with enjoyable ones. Balance is key here, particularly balancing and scheduling time alone and time with family.
Creative activities can alleviate stress while providing an energetic and emotional outlet. Explore keeping a gratitude journal, creative writing, crafting, and retelling stories behind family traditions and bonds. Looking for something to freshen up the season? Establish a new tradition for your family. Keep in mind the traditional festive spirit of giving and thoughtfulness as an opportunity to be with those that you love and to remember those that have been lost.
The heightened sense of community at this time of year can soften the impact on those around you who may have experienced a loss and/or a significant change. Reaching out and regular “check-ins” are a way to help them heal.
If exacerbated family stress and tension are inevitable during the festive period, consider a change of scenery, for example a vacation and/or meeting the family on neutral territory. Further, actively avoid exploring or revisiting identified “hot topics” within the family. Keep conversations superficial and short. Develop ways to purge the stress, worry, and irritation that can come from emotionally-charged family get togethers and stressful relationships.
On the other hand, this may be a time when you are considering repairing or salvaging damaged relationships with friends or family members. The spirit of holiday giving and contributing to the local community in a supportive way can be a unifying and emotionally validating experience for both parties. Volunteer together at your local food pantry or visit a nursing home.
The holidays, anniversaries, and special events can be especially difficult if you or your family has experienced a loss or significant challenge. It can feel like something and someone is missing. Holiday traditions may spark memories and then guilt about enjoying yourself in a loved one’s absence. If this is the case, bring thoughts and feelings into the open long before the holiday season begins. Collaboratively develop ways to nurture the memory of the person you are missing and traditions associated with the loss. If your feelings are overwhelming or you notice that your behavior is becoming self-destructive, contact a counselor who can help you work through your experience.
Although, on the outside holidays are an exuberant celebration of giving, happiness and love; on the inside, the reality oftentimes is challenging for both individuals and families on many different levels. Anticipating “the holiday blues” is a proactive way to counter and manage some of the unwanted facets of these occasions. This can also help you and your family attain holiday/seasonal goals.
Christian Billington is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist candidate. He is passionate about couple and family therapy, grief and loss, helping the helpers, and developing training and support to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field. Christian has a modest private practice in Westminster, Colorado, that can be found here www.PatchLaneCounseling.com. Twitter: @patchlane