How To Cope With Holiday Stress
Every year, we say the same thing. If we focus on preparation and getting ahead of things early, the stress won’t be there. And yet every year, the magic of the holidays is often clouded with the inevitable holiday stress and anxiety. What makes it hard to get in front of it all is that there are so many factors that can lead to anxiety this time of year. Family turmoil, trying to make it to everything, holiday parties, getting the perfect gifts for everyone, money pouring out of your bank account, cooking for big groups of people, decorating…you name it, we’ve stressed about it.
And while we don’t claim to be experts at dealing with holiday stress and are always trying to do better ourselves, we do have some pretty good advice from two amazing professionals, as well as some of our own words of wisdom to share with you mamas.
We hope this helps!
Wise Words From Anne Russey, Katy LPC and Owner of Anne Russey Counseling
Scrolling through social media around the holidays can foster feelings of inadequacy, grief, loneliness, envy and anxiety. Pay attention to those reactions and try responding to those feelings with self compassion and acts of self love instead of self criticism.
Not a gourmet chef? Order take out or host a pot luck.
Not on speaking terms with your family or unable to find anyone to celebrate with? Find a community event or volunteer to serve those in need instead.
Grieving a recent loss or the anniversary of one and just not in the mood to “celebrate”? Give yourself permission to SKIP IT this year and do something that feels more in alignment with how you’re feeling instead.
One of my favorite Thanksgivings thus far was the first one with my oldest daughter. She was one week old and we were EXHAUSTED. We camped out in the comfort of our own home with all of our first time parent newborn “accessories” within close and comfortable reach, rather than traveling around town as we usually do. We had a few visitors come over for pizza delivery Thanksgiving night. I think I even got a shower while one of the visitors did our dishes that had piled up in the sink and another one held the baby. We were already over extended adjusting to life as new parents and doing the full Thanksgiving road show would have really done us in.
Make sure you give yourself a break this year!
Holiday Coping Strategies from Dr. Judith Zackson, clinical psychologist in Greenwich, CT
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or…is it? The truth is that many individuals have a difficult time during the holiday season.The fantasy of a cookie-cutter perfect holiday experience can be derailed by the pressures of family gatherings, finances, overeating, and drinking…and things do not always turn out festive. At the same time, the holidays are also an opportunity to build resilience by implementing coping strategies.
The first thing you should do is plan ahead and recognize your triggers. If finances are a trigger, create a budget and stick to it. If you are concerned about overindulging or drinking too much, implement a healthy routine of sleep, diet, and exercise. If you have challenging in-laws, take some time to think about how you can plan to respond to them differently. For instance, if your mother-in-law tends to ask intrusive questions about giving her a second grandchild, be gracious and reassure her that she will be the first to know.
Which home for the holidays?
Deciding whose family to spend the holidays with can be a point of contention between you and your partner; what’s most important is that you and your partner can come to an agreement and be supportive of each other. These factors can be helpful to take into account:
- Family dynamics: If a family member is ill or aging, it may be a good idea to spend time with them this year
- Budget: If your parents live across the country, plan whether you can afford to travel with your family
- Time: How much time can you or your spouse take off from work?
- Fairness: Do you see one family more than the other?
Coping with challenging relatives at family gatherings
The good news is that everyone typically has a distinct pattern of interaction. If Dad is constantly concerned about finances, he will likely bring it up during your visit, so plan your responses. For example, ask him nicely to revisit this topic after the holiday season, and bring up a lighter topic instead. Or, if your mother-in-law constantly brings up the subject of how you’re raising your special-needs child, calmly tell her that you are taking the appropriate steps to help your child, and that you prefer to enjoy the family the way it is now.It is also important to realize that, if you have difficult in-laws, being critical of them with your partner will likely only make them feel that you’re attacking their family. Try to be supportive of one another, and practice some dialogues at home to prepare for such interactions. In addition, work on accepting family members for who they are, not who you would like them to be. It can be helpful to create a ‘Teflon’ mindset: let their comments slide off, and recognize that their statements reveal more about them than about you. The truth is that you can’t control others, but you can control your actions. Set healthy boundaries and practice mindfulness techniques to ground yourself in the present moment.
- Preparation:Kids thrive on predictability, so describe the scene: how many people will be at the party, who they are, etc. (for example, Uncle Jim likes the TV on loud). The more details the better: paint a picture so they feel prepared prior to the event.
- Discuss physical boundaries: Mention that relatives will most like hug them, and ask your child how they feel about that. If your child does not like it, encourage your child to advocate for themselves.
- Review house rules: For example, can they have their iPad? Do kids have to stay in the play area?
- Socially anxious children: Role-play how they might answer questions about school, activities, and what topics they can discuss.
- Sensitive child: If your child is sensitive to loud noises or crowds, establish ‘check-in’ or ‘getaway spots’ for your child to recharge.
Holidays sometimes bring up painful memories that can lead to sadness. Try to practice self-compassion: allow yourself to feel the sadness, and engage in self-care.Pushing away feelings doesn’t help. If you are grieving a recent death of a loved one, perhaps you might take out photos and remember positive memories. Create a new tradition remembering the person who died. Make a toast in their honor. Letting the people who love you know that holidays are difficult for you gives them a chance to support you.
Research supports the notion that the more generous we are, the better we feel. Set an intention in the morning to be giving that day. For example, if a friend is having a difficult time, send a note to let them know you’re thinking of them. Practice shifting your attention to what is going well instead of what is not.
Remember, the holidays are meant to be a time for family, friends, and deeper connections, so know your triggers and prepare for them in advance to ensure you can enjoy the holidays.
Katy Moms Network Advice, Not Experts…Just Moms Who’ve Been There/Are There
1. Learn to say no!
You will save yourself so much stress if you don’t try to make it to every little thing. We found ourselves scrambling last year to make it to every gathering and it took away from some of the magic around us, specifically after a late night at a family gathering on Christmas Eve. Although it’s hard to think about disappointing anyone, it’s OK to say no, it’s OK to put your kids first, and it’s OK to make decisions around what’s going to make you a happier parent. This year, we’re doing Christmas Eve night with just our family unit so we can truly get in the spirt together and get ready for Santa! Were some family members disappointed? Maybe. But the decision lifted a weight from us that made us realize we made the right choice.
2. Don’t count calories and do not step on that scale!
Y’all. This one! What are New Year’s Resolutions for if you try to start them in December with all the yummy food and drinks around? The holidays should not be a time of stressing about your weight or dieting. Enjoy and be in the moment. Eat those mashed potatoes. Eat that pie, mama! Enjoy it now so when you’re starting your new Whole30 in January, at least you enjoyed yourself for the holidays!
3. Your Kids Don’t Care
Meaning, do not try to make everything perfection. Last year we decorated sugar cookies the night before Christmas Eve and had an absolute blast. And guess what? Those cookies were store bought, from the bakery, and we bought some icing and sprinkles from the bakery isle and called it a day! Kids loved it! Were they Joanna Gaines’ worth homemade? Nope. Did our kids care? No way! We also did a gingerbread house that night that wouldn’t stand up so we trashed it together with icing and ate all the candy decorations instead. And the kids still talk about it til’ this day. Just make memories! That’s what’s important. They’ll remember the feelings they had while being with you, not that everything was perfect.
4. It’s Not All About The Gifts
Can we get an amen on this one, mamas? Let’s teach these kids young that although Santa bringing presents is so fun, that’s not what the holidays are about. They’re about family and giving. It’s about taking a step back to appreciate what you have and what you’re grateful for. Is Christmas morning magical to see their little faces so excited that Santa came? Totally! But don’t drain your bank account and stress yourself out to get the perfect gifts. This goes for other family members as well! Gift cards are perfect and stress free. The old saying of “it’s the thought that counts” still rings true, guys. Presents don’t have to be perfection.
5. Try to enjoy it in the moment and be present
This one’s very important! Don’t let the stress of the holidays, that will come for most of us in small ways or in big, overshadow the magic of this time of year. Put your phones away. Realize that email can wait until January. Be present with your family. They’re who matter most in this life. Just try to ENJOY.