The holidays are stressful. People have an immense amount of expectation on themselves and their families; they are rushing to provide an idyllic image of the holidays for self and others; there is an increased financial cost to these goals; and, overall, there is just a lot of pressure. In my experience, human beings don’t do very well when there is too much pressure. This is knowledge in the psychological community that many things operate within a bell curve.
What this means is that too little of something (like stress) produces poor results, just the same way that too much of something (like stress or pressure) produces poor results. Our ideal performance comes somewhere in the middle, where we have stress/pressure but not too little or too much. The holidays throw all of this into whack and we have too little of many things, like time, money, people, connection, perfection, and too much of other things, like party libations, stress, pressure, burden, expectation. With this formula, we can start to see why the holidays are such a difficult time of year.
Even those who don’t have much of a relationship with the holidays of December are still affected, at least in North America, for they are exposed to others who are dealing with this and it emits an energy that is quite palpable and, I’ll dare say, toxic.
The important question as a mental health professional becomes, how can we keep ourselves stable and sane while navigating through this time of year? This is a big push for me every year as I counsel people in my office and I like to share any tips that I’ve picked up during this and other years in the hopes it might help others. Here are some holiday health tips:
– Maintain your anchors. Everybody has their go-to health tools that provide them health and vitality. While some of your good-to-haves may slide during this time of year, try not to lose your anchors as they are just that and can provide the stabilization that you need to weather the storms.
– Focus on what brings you joy. It’s easy to focus on stress and problems and lose connection with the things that bring us joy. This can be by finding pleasure in the simple things like a warm blanket, cup of tea, quiet book, time with friends, activity that you enjoy and anything from the small to the big(ger).
– Let your instincts guide your boundaries. Sometimes our brain plays tricks on us and can lead us to violate our values, core needs and values. Tuning into our intuition and listening to that “little voice,” our “gut” or however you identify your intuition can help guide us in a direction that feels authentic and congruent with who we are.
– Take time for yourself. With the amount of invitations that some people receive to special events and occasions at this time of year, it’s important to have time to recharge and be with yourself. Even the most extroverted of people need some time to reflect, introspect and do some things for and with themselves.
– Enjoy rest and relaxation. Whatever this looks like for you. There is no recipe or fixed way that all people rest or relax. Don’t know what this is for you? Now might be a great time to start experimenting by trying different activities, ways to spend your free time to see which ones resonate for you.
– Focus on gratitude and what you have, less on what you’re missing. It’s so easy to move away from a gratitude practice and mindset and get focused on the “not enough” mentality. Focusing on what we appreciate and taking stock of what we have does wonders for our perspective and our mental health and is important to practice at anytime.
– Honour your triggers. I know some people are “triggered” by the word “trigger” right now as it has been overused in society, but it has some legitimate psychological meaning as we can become activated by things that have significance to us. Invalidating, rationalizing away, and trying to ignore our feelings when we have been activated by something is a further perpetuation of internal abuse and neglect. You deserve better and it’s important to acknowledge when you’re being impacted by something.
I personally have had a very mixed relationship with the holidays over the years. Growing up, celebrating with family in town was just something that you just did. Smiling over gifts you didn’t really like was something that you just did. Staying up really late while socializing was something that you just did. It was only as an adult when I had the freedom to re-evaluate these traditions that I realized which ones worked for me and which ones didn’t. I now have a very different relationship with the holidays but there is still the tag along guilt that comes from doing things differently than how you are “supposed” to. Even different from how society tells us we are supposed to see and experience things. I’m learning to be okay with that and focus on my created family and what is important to us.
Professionally, I find the holidays difficult as I have noticed people are fundamentally unhappy and down during the holidays, mixed with anxious and angsty so it creates a very hard energy to witness and be around hour after hour, day after day. I do my best to support people through this time of year but the thing that seems to help it the most? The holidays being over. I’ll leave you to reflect on what that says about what our society and culture has trained us to think and be during this time of year…
By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist in Alberta. Paige owns and operates a solo private practice counselling practice called Sana Psychological which supports individuals with problem behaviours and substance use issues.