Tips for Holiday Stress Management

The holiday season is a time for family and festivities, but it can also be an emotional time when we feel stress, sadness and fatigue. Peninsula, a division of Parkwest Medical Center, offers a free downloadable guide to help you manage the stress of the season. The guide is intended for every- one, not just those who may be struggling with behavioral health issues. Peninsula’s Holiday Survival Guide includes expert advice on common holiday stressors such as managing money, juggling schedules and coping with loneliness. It addresses how to deal with difficult relationships, managing anger and tips for people with addictive behaviors such as alcohol and drug dependency.Happy family opening gifts together.

Kalla Campbell wearing dark suit.
Kalla Campbell, OTR/L

Kalla Campbell, OTR/L, occupational therapist at Peninsula, has additional tips to manage stress and be mindful during the holiday season. She says, “We can experience much joy during the holiday season. It’s a time to gather with friends and family, a time for eating scrumptious food, decorating with fun lights and setting goals for the new year. But even with that joy we can experience increased anxiety, stress and depression.” With holidays comes anxiety of being in crowds, stress over buying the right gifts or having money to buy gifts at all, and grief with memories of loved ones no longer with us. This year let’s give ourselves a gift: a present of “being present.”

A word for being fully present without judgment is mindfulness. Mindfulness is one way to help  decrease anxiety and stress, and increase positive thoughts. Here are seven ways to be more mindful during this time of year:

  • Increased awareness can come through our senses. Stop and take time to notice the decorations or twinkling lights in the neighborhood. Take small bites of food, notice its texture and taste  the savory or sweetness. Hold a warm cup of cocoa and let the smell of the milk chocolate linger in your nose. Let positive memories wash over you, calming your mind and relaxing your body.
  • Using your senses can also ground you when feeling overwhelmed. Take a moment to list five  things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one thing you taste. (If there is nothing to taste, say a positive affirmation). This technique helps with distraction from anxiety and increased awareness of one’s surroundings.
  • Focus on one object and notice everything about it. Notice its texture, length, color, scent and sound. Allow the complete focus to calm your mind.
  • Listen to a guided meditation or download a mindfulness app.
  • Be mindful of your boundaries. It’s OK to say “no” if you are overwhelmed in the current moment.
  • Be mindful of your needs. When you’re feeling a certain emotion, take a moment to feel and accept it. If you are exhausted, take a moment for yourself. Whatever you are doing will be there when you come back. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
  • Be mindful of the things you do have. It’s easy at this time of year to get caught up in things we want in comparison to things we need. Practicing gratitude allows us to be thankful for what we have in this current moment. Gratitude helps reduce “toxic” emotions and increase a positive mindset, leading to a more calm and relaxed state.

So when the holiday season causes you anxiety and stress, be mindful — and give yourself the present.

What Do I Say? Support When Others are Struggling

When someone you love or care about is struggling it’s hard to know what to say. Here are some ideas for how to express your concern and support.

Dealing with Stress and Anxiety

It can be easy to self-medicate with alcohol or substances to deal with anxiety and stress. But it  can become a problem if the person depends too much on alcohol, or any substance, including  prescribed medications. Others may recognize it as a problem before the person does.

Things You Can Say:

“I’ve noticed you are drinking more than usual, and I’m concerned. Want to talk about it?”
“You have been dealing with a lot. I think the last few weeks have been stressful; tell me how it’s been.”

Dealing with Loss or Grief

The notion of spending time with loved ones around the holidays can make loss sting even worse, or grief feel even deeper. Show someone who is grieving that you care by asking about and remembering those who are not with us.

Things You Can Say:

“I know this has been hard on you. How are you doing now?” Validate how the person is feeling and ask if they need help.

When Someone is Lonely

Never underestimate the power of presence. Invite those who are hurting for a meal or cup of coffee. Even dropping off a meal to someone’s home and having a short conversation can show you
care.

Things You Can Say:

Ask questions with a listening ear, and allow space for the person to speak comfortably. “Tell me more about that and how it’s been for you.”

Is It More Than the Blues? When to Seek Professional Help

During winter months some individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), brought on by decreased exposure to sunlight. Others  experience holiday blues that last a few days. But sometimes feelings go beyond the blues or SAD and are serious signs of depression. If you or a loved one have holiday blues that seem to be lingering, watch for the following signs:

  • Constant sadness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in pleasures once enjoyed
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Inexplicable changes in weight, appetite or sleeping habits
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Help is Available

Cover of 2022 Holiday Handbook.

Peninsula has a wide range of behavioral health services. Inpatient services are available with around-the-clock care for individuals in crisis who need stabilization. Outpatient services include psychotherapy, medication management services and case management. We also offer many therapy and support groups. The Recovery Education Center helps people understand behavioral health problems and develop  skills to help prevent debilitating symptoms. The Peer Support Program helps individuals stay connected and socialize with others. Some groups are for patients of Peninsula and others are free to the public. For more information refer to the Holiday Survival Guide available here.

Staying Connected

During the hustle and bustle of the season, we sometimes forget the simple joy of spending time creating memories with loved ones. Here are just a few suggestions to help you connect or reconnect during the holidays:

Break bread. Have a sit-down meal with members of your household at least four times a week – or as  many times as possible. Concentrate on eating mindfully.

Make reservations. Reserve part of your weekdays and weekends to spend some one-on-one time with each of your children. Spend the first 15 minutes after you or your child arrives home to  talk about the day’s activities.

Maintain traditions. Many inherited values are communicated through holiday traditions. In a family setting, maintain traditions or rituals in creative ways that convey purpose, even if your family situation is different from years past.

Do a holiday project together. Make holiday cards to send to long-distance family and friends, or make some of the gifts you plan to give together. Homemade holiday cookies or ornaments are fun,  collaborative projects.

Reminisce together. Pull out photos and share memories sparked by the images. Home movies are a good way to teach your children about their relatives. Share your own childhood
traditions, and even recreate them. By reliving those traditions, you are connecting the past  with the present and strengthening the bond between generations.

Share the gift of giving. Donate  new toys, pick a child’s name off a community angel tree or a plan a meal for a needy family.

Can you pass the holiday stress test?

Five Signs You May be Stressed:

  • You’re irritable.
  • You’re losing sleep.
  • You’re losing or gaining weight.
  • You feel tense, with muscle aches or headaches.
  • You feel overwhelmed.

Peninsula can help you manage your stress. For help, visit PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org or call 865-970-9800.