The holidays are coming. Despite the songs claiming it’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s easy to feel the opposite. With excessive activities, financial strain, extended time with family members with a lot to say, and the pressure to celebrate despite our own feelings, many of us find the holidays to be the most stressful time of the year.
When under stress, we can take a few steps to find comfort as we celebrate the season. We all deserve to have happy holidays. That is why the first step to coping with stress during the holidays is to remove it where possible.
The best way to remove unnecessary stress is by setting healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries will allow you to establish clear expectations for everyone you’re celebrating with and help you avoid burnout, allowing you the space to truly enjoy the magic of this season.
To set healthy boundaries, you must first look within yourself. How well do you take “no” from others? Can you pace yourself well? Do you make promises to yourself and keep them? I have discovered when we know what we need and are connected to self-care, it’s easier to navigate and respect our values and desires.
What do I need this holiday season?
What activities bring me joy?
What leaves me feeling stressed about the holiday season?
Now that you’re clear on your needs and some things you’re sure you want to set in motion, let’s look at setting those boundaries with loved ones, coworkers and others around you. One of the most effective ways to do this is to remember that our interpersonal interactions are key to getting our needs met. As you better define and understand your needs, it will become easier to communicate your boundaries with clarity and compassion.
A great method for communicating your needs involves “I feel…” statements, followed by boundary-setting. For example:
“I feel uncomfortable when you ask questions I am not ready to answer. Therefore, I will not be answering any more questions related to _____.”
“I feel overwhelmed with everything expected of me this holiday season, so I will sit out the holiday art festival.”
These “I feel…” statements will allow your loved ones to empathize with you better, helping boundary-setting feel less personal. Remember that you deserve to enjoy the celebrations this time of year, too.
Self-soothing exercises are another effective way to reduce stress. Many times, when schedules are filled with activities, socializing and extra chores, we forget to check in with ourselves.
One self-soothing method you can try is to gain space and step away. If you’re at a party and feel a sense of stress hit you, heading outside for a bit can give you the chance to calm down. If you are overwhelmed with hosting responsibilities, stepping into your bedroom can allow you space to find a sense of calm. This works for both kids and adults, as it takes you away from the stressful environment, allowing your brain to reset.
While there, you can try a favorite eye exercise I share with clients. Vergence Therapy, introduced by Merrill Bowan, works with your eyes and vagus nerve as a way to treat panic attacks. Look at your finger within 8 to 12 inches from your face held at eye level, then look past your finger and continue going back and forth, holding your vision on each spot for up to 10 seconds. Most people feel calmer from their symptoms after 4-6 cycles.
Another effective method for coping with stress, which can take little time, involves seeking out soothing imagery. Looking at or visualizing an image that triggers feelings of calmness, like a burning candle, twinkling lights, a scene of serenity, or images of loved ones, can be effective for finding stress relief. Eye positions and how we orient in our environment can shift a lot internally and no one will even know you’re doing it.
Or try focusing on slowing your breath. Breathe in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, and breathe out for a count of four. Hyperventilating and rapid breathing are physical symptoms of stress, so consciously slowing down your breath tells your body to relax, which sends soothing messages to your brain.
Experiencing stress during the holidays can be difficult. As my gift to celebrate you, I am including this holiday self-spotting exercise.
However you celebrate my wish is you find peace, joy and love this season and always.