Ready or not, Winter is here. Daylight time is becoming shorter, and when you are out-and-about, you see people busily preparing for the upcoming holidays. While the new fresh snow and anticipation of seeing family over the holidays is exciting and joyful for many, we also know that many people find the holiday season to be a challenging time. The holidays may remind you of the loss of a loved one, or maybe your symptoms of depression increase as we head into the dark, cold Winter months. Many of you also need some extra support figuring out how to manage plans with in laws or co-parents, surviving the school breaks with your kids home from school, and balancing family budgets with extra traveling and gift-giving costs. Whatever the reason, it is common for people to endorse increased stress during this time of year.
Keep reading for a few ideas you may consider to help alleviate this additional stress.
Make Time for Taking Care of Yourself
During the holidays, it is more important than ever to practice self-care for yourself. What helps you to relax? Pick an activity and commit to 10-20 minutes per day. You will likely find this practice will help to decrease your reactivity during stressful situations throughout the day.
Give Yourself Permission to Say “No”
Become comfortable with saying “No” to extra commitments. Before committing to an extra holiday party or event, ask yourself if the extra commitment is worth what you are giving up (time to yourself, the kids’ nap time, family meals, etc.). Over-scheduling your kids and deviating too far from their usual routine is a recipe for meltdowns. If you do not feel comfortable saying “No” in the moment when you receive a request, it is perfectly okay to ask for time to think about whether not the extra event will work for you.
Keep Some Structure
Do your best to maintain your sleep-wake schedule during this time.
If you have kids, know that they will also want some down time during their school break. Having some predictability and structure at home will be helpful. Consider having 1 planned activity per day (e.g. play date, ice skating, art project at home). Write this on a calendar for your school-age kids to see so they know what to anticipate.
If you are coordinating holiday schedules with in-laws or co-parents, begin working on setting schedules for visits now. Add commitments to the calendar to keep you and your family organized, while also allowing for some flexibility with plans. For example, allow a cushion of time between commitments scheduled on the same day.
Be Flexible and Forgive Yourself
Ask yourself if it really matters. If you weren’t able to follow through with a favorite tradition, or if you had to purchase store bought goods instead of a homemade dessert, will your holiday be a wreck for the whole family? Would this somehow mean that you are not “good enough” at being a sibling/child/parent/colleague (fill in your role here)? Of course not! If you are starting to feel this way, be gentle on yourself. No one really can do it all, and usually the people around you do not even notice that something did not go as you had planned.
Additionally, it is important to remind yourself that this extra stress is usually temporary and that you can and will get through the next few months.
Reach Out for Help
Lean on your support system. Talk through your worries and stress with a friend who is supportive, positive, and knows your situational well. Delegate tasks and ask for help.
If you have tried some of the above strategies on your own and continue to feel stressed and down, I suggest you connect with me or another professional. Consult your doctor or a therapist if your symptoms are getting in the way of your ability to live the life you want. Examples of this type of distress may include difficulty getting out of bed, not being able to focus on work, sudden change in mood, or significant conflict with your partner or family members.
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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