The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here and many of us will soon finish our shopping, attend seasonal events, or visit with family and friends before awaking Christmas morning, sitting around the tree in pajamas, sipping coffee and enjoying the blessings we have received.
But for some, this time of the year is more difficult than enjoyable. It may be a time when we remember a loved one who is no longer with us or we struggle to be around the various foods that will be before us. It could be a time when we realize how last year’s Christmas was bigger and better because we recently lost a job and could barely afford to purchase more than a candy cane for someone’s stocking. Or perhaps just being around family is awkward or stressful. Whatever the reason, the holidays can be challenging.
So what can we do to help ourselves get through a time of year intended to be merry and joyful? I’ve compiled some suggestions based on a mix of my personal experience, as well as my knowledge as a counselor. However, I realize that not everyone can find the peace they are seeking this holiday. To help, I encourage all of us to:
1. Stay in the present moment and try not to dwell on what has happened in the previous days/years. This helps us to not miss out on the experiences that are right before us; the memories that are creating themselves today.
2. Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Even when we can’t or don’t want to see them, we all have positives in our lives and this is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the things that have helped us feel good throughout the past 12 months.
3. Call a family member who lives far away and is unable to directly share the holidays with you. Calling my aunts, uncles, cousins or grandmother who all live in Rhode Island gives me a feeling of warmth and love. The phone call may be short, but it reminds me that there are many more people in this world who care about me and about whom I care.
4. Reach out to someone who may not have anyone at all. Perhaps you can stop by a local nursing home and provide Christmas cheer to a man or woman who is lonely or buy a cup of coffee or a muffin for a homeless person you see on the street everyday on your way to the office. Evidence shows that helping others can increase/renew our sense of purpose and feeling of hope.
5. Laugh. Laughter truly is one of the greatest medicines and the best part is that it’s FREE!!! Who doesn’t enjoy a good chuckle now and then? If you’re alone this holiday, there are many websites that have funny videos posted, so why not Google such videos and give yourself a chance to laugh out loud.
6. Practice deep breathing. This is probably the number one skill I teach to my clients, no matter what their age, because it works. When we’re experiencing tough emotions, such as anxiety, taking deep breaths in through our nose and out through our mouth, slowly, can produce a calming effect and is actually proven to slow the heart rate.
7. Listen to your favorite music, even if it’s not holiday related. Music, like laughter, is shown to help increase mood. When you start to stress or the noise of all the kids in your family starts to bring up negative emotions for you, pop in your earbuds and turn on your MP3 player. If you don’t have a MP3 player, head to a quiet part of the house, turn on a TV or a radio and allow yourself to relax.
8. Give yourself grace and know that it WILL be Okay. I’m thinking specifically of those who struggle with food concerns and how much anxiety can be present for those individuals during this time of year. Know that it’s normal and okay to take part in holiday meals and that if we pace ourselves, while practicing some of the above skills, we will get through.
9. Watch a holiday movie. Whenever I see that “Elf” is playing on TV, I instantly feel better. Ironically, the first time I saw this movie I was in a very difficult place in my life. However, it’s a movie that is hilarious and brings to me positive, happy feelings and truly gets me into the spirit of the holiday. There are others that are just as good, such as the old Charlie Brown movies. Whatever you choose, let yourself enjoy it!
10. Pray or talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Coping with the challenges of the season is in no way easy and I’m a believer in prayer and in talking about what’s going on. In those moments when I truly don’t know what to do, I bow my head and say, “God, I need you. Give me strength to get through.” I’ll also quote Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God,” which reminds me that I don’t have to know all of the answers to why things are the way they are and I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. He is there to guide me and to provide that which I cannot provide myself. On another note, if you are having trouble handling a family member, go to that person and gently express your concerns. I use a structure that I also teach my clients: “When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank). I need (fill in the blank).” An example? “When you crack jokes about me being unemployed, I feel angry because I worked very hard. I need support and compassion as I try to find another job.” Make sense?
Some additional things we can do to improve our holiday experiences include cooking, baking, crafting, playing in the snow, taking winter/holiday photos. Maybe you’ll be able to practice at least one of the above and certainly feel free to let me know how you did.
With that I’ll say, try to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!