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The holidays are supposed to be “the happiest time of the year” and yet, for many, they are a time of increased stress and anxiety.  My last post focused on eating disorders during the holidays and how to prepare for family gatherings and social events, especially those that include food. In my private practice, I also specialize in working with people who suffer from depression and anxiety and the focus on family gatherings and social events this time of year can lead to increased stress and anxiety.  If you find yourself stressed out and anxious this holiday season, here are some things you can try to reconnect with what is important to you and experience decreased stress and anxiety:

  1. Mindfully check in with your body.  What does it need right now?  Rest?  Food?  Activity?  Notice what you are needing and take action towards meeting your needs.
  2. Create a list of positive things you can do to cope with your emotions and stress and then give them a try when you are feeling overwhelmed.  Ideas include: journaling, listening to your favorite music, going for a walk, talking to a friend, taking a nap, etc.
  3. Practice flexibility with your thoughts and work on letting go of rigidity, perfectionism, criticism, and judgment.  Observe without judgement.  Remember that thoughts are just words and are not necessarily helpful or true.  Distance yourself from the unhelpful thoughts by thinking, “I’m having the thought that . . . “or “I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that . . .”
  4. Take a deep breath and connect to what is important to you.  What do you value?  What is your intention for being where you are in that moment (i.e. spending time with family, seeing a friend who is in from out-of-town, celebrating a holiday, connecting spiritually, etc.)?  Focus any personal goals for the season on what you would like to be doing rather than on what you “shouldn’t” do.
  5. Remind yourself that all emotions, including anxiety and stress, are part of living a vital life and will pass with time.  In order to experience feelings like joy, connectedness, and gratitude; we also need to make room for uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness.
  6. Show compassion for yourself.  Acknowledge that the holidays can be a challenging time and hold any difficult thoughts, judgments, or feelings lightly.
  7. Reach out for support to a trusted friend or family member, therapist, support group, minister, etc.  Join a supportive online community or follow a helpful blog.
  8. Prioritize and make time for self-care.  If you do not have a self-care routine, the holidays are a great time to start one.  Do things you enjoy and take time for yourself.
  9. Set healthy boundaries by deciding what you are willing and not willing to do this holiday season.  Avoid taking on too much by saying “no” to unnecessary events and obligations.  Communicate your needs to friends and family members and have an “exit strategy” ready if you need to get away and connect to support.
  10. Practice mindfulness daily.  Click here for informal mindfulness exercises you can do while getting ready in the morning or completing chores.  Check this link out for a brief mindful breathing activity.  Or search You Tube for formal mindfulness exercises such as this one that guides you through a leaves on the stream exercise from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

What other ideas do you have for reducing stress and anxiety this time of year?  I would love to hear about things you have tried and found to be helpful!

Are you experiencing depression or anxiety and looking for support?  To schedule an appointment, contact me today at catherine@embracestrengthcounseling or visit my website for more information about my services.  I offer a free initial consultation and would be happy to talk to you and share how I can help.