As we enter another holiday season, it is important to recognize the complex emotional states that are associated with this time of year. The marketing and advertising agencies sell this time of year as a season of joy, family togetherness and peace towards our fellow citizens. This may be true for some individuals and families, but others will struggle with feelings of loneliness, grief, and anxiety, to name a few. Suicide rates increase at this time of year. Family conflict may be enhanced at family events. Alcohol and drug use may increase to cope with many difficult emotions and thoughts brought about by these messages – which run counter to our own experiences. How are we to get through this festive season with the least amount of emotional and mental distress?
Here are a few possible strategies to get you through some of these hurdles:
Diet and Nutrition.
*Plan ahead. Avoid arriving to company or family events on an empty stomach. Try eating a small, healthy snack beforehand to take the edge off. This will help stave off overeating. If it is a potluck event, then bring dishes that you can eat as well as plenty to share with others. Keep your own home (and workplace, if possible) stocked with “safe foods”. This strategy also applies to the consumption of alcohol. Incorporating an accountability buddy, alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, setting a limit, are all possible strategies to minimize your consumption of alcohol.
*Be kind to yourself. It is also important to be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack if you do find yourself overindulging. Guilt and self-loathing will not serve you in any way and will contribute to more of the same behavior – resulting in a shame cycle. Practicing self-compassion will allow you to break the cycle of bingeing and starving.
*Beware of labelling. It is also important to remember that foods are neither “good” nor “bad”. As human beings, we will automatically be tempted by something that is deemed taboo. This black and white thinking will increase our stress levels and perpetuate negative thoughts and behaviors. You can support yourself by monitoring your portion sizes. Could you use a smaller plate? Fewer trips to the buffet? Engage in mindful eating. Allow yourself a treat so that you don’t feel like you are depriving yourself. It is also okay to say no to an event if you don’t feel up to it. This is not selfish but self-care.
*Stick to your regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Visiting with family, friends and coworkers can result in a chaotic sleep schedule – staying up later than usual or getting up sooner than normal can impact your sense of well-being. Getting appropriate rest will help reduce stress and anxiety.
*Stay away from caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and will impact your ability to get to sleep and alcohol can interrupt your sleep – even if you find that it helps you get to sleep at the outset. Stop drinking alcohol about 4 hours before bedtime.
Engage in some form of physical activity. This will help with you get a restful sleep and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
*Volunteer your time/engage in hobbies. Being around others or engaging your creative energies will keep you busy and connected to the world. We are social creatures and that connection with others can be healing and fulfilling.
*Ask for and accept help from others. Maintaining connections to family, friends and coworkers will assist in the healing process.
*Find support. There are many support groups available within your community (through your church, local library, community centre, etc.) and/or talking to a counsellor will also help you process the grief. Talking about your grief in safe, structured environment will ensure that the healing process goes more smoothly with fewer negative effects.
See the above strategies, as many of them will also help combat the feeling of loneliness that can be exacerbated at this time of year. You may also try keeping a list or journal of what you are thankful or grateful for, as well as keeping track of your own accomplishments throughout the year. This is a great time to reflect on the people in your life who have been a source of meaningful contact. Engage your artistic self and share that art with others.
The holiday season is also the time when we are typically attending work-related events or large family events and we are confronted with having conversations with folks who may have different views than our own. This can be a challenging under the best of circumstances. So how do we get through these gatherings with as much peace as possible? Marsha Linehan developed a treatment model called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that has been used with individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Skills in Interpersonal Effectiveness are a major part of this treatment and part of this is how to communicate effectively with others. The acronym that is used is DEAR and can be broken down as follows:
6. Describe the current situation and stick to the facts. Be objective. “You told me you would be here by 5pm but you did not arrive until 9pm.”
7. Express your feelings and opinions about the situation. Don’t assume the other person(s) know what you are feeling. Use “I” statements. “I felt angry….” rather than “You should have known….”
8. Assert yourself by asking for what you want or by saying NO. Don’t assume others know what you are thinking. No mindreading allowed. “I want you to phone me if you are going to be late.”
9. Reinforce what the positive outcome will be if your wants or needs are met. “I will be much easier to live with if you do this.” and reward the desired behavior after the fact.
These are just a few tips and suggestions that may help combat the stress and anxiety that many may feel as this season kicks into full gear. If you have any questions about any of the above or would like to find out how counselling can help you find a sense of emotional and mental well-being during this season, or at any other time, please feel free to contact me at 778-242-1124 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30-minute telephone consultation.