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Six Ways to Minimize Holiday Stress

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Staying grounded during the holidays is difficult for most everyone. Financial stressors, substance abuse issues (yours or someone else’s), or a history of trauma can only exacerbate the problem. Add to that the fact that old family roles kick in during family gatherings, and well-adjusted, normally sane people suddenly find themselves acting like five-year-olds. How do you maintain your peace of mind and stay balanced? Here is a list of suggestions for maintaining your mental health during the holiday season:

1. Maintain Your Self-Care
If you have a regular exercise routine, a healthy diet, or a relaxation program that gets you through the rest of the year, the holidays are not the time to forgo them. In fact, you often need them more this time of year. Eat as healthily as you can. Maintain your workout or relaxation regime as best you can. Use suggestion number two to save time for these very important practices.

2. Just Say “No”
Maintain your boundaries and your sanity. The holiday can be a great time for getting together with friends and family. However, too many parties or gatherings can leave you exhausted and compromise your self-care.

Things you might think about saying "No" to:

  • Attending every single holiday invitation you receive
  • Being pressured to eat or drink too much
  • Buying presents for every single person you know or have ever met
  • Buying expensive presents that break your budget
  • Being pressured into bypassing your self-care (exercise, diet, relaxation techniques, etc.)
  • Attending family gatherings that deteriorate into drunken brawls, finger pointing contests, or other dysfunctional patterns

You may even want to create a holiday gathering of your own and forgo dysfunctional family dynamics. We don’t often think of it, but many people have been cast out of their families of origin. The gay and lesbian community is one community that has been very strong in creating their own healthy families and having their own gatherings, proving that “family” doesn’t have to be biologically determined.

Individuals who are newly sober might be compromised by a family that drinks heavily. Individuals who have experienced childhood abuse or violence within their families may not feel safe returning to them if their abuser or molester is still present. If attending a family gathering is not possible for any reason, don’t miss out on the season. Create your own community and have your own gathering that is safe, supportive and healthy.

3. Maintain Moderation
Eating, drinking, and partying too much can wipe out the good health you strive for the rest of the year. Be mindful of how much you do of each and try to maintain moderation. It’s not necessary to taste everything or drink as much as Uncle Fred. Do what is best for you. Refer back to number two, learn to say “No.”

4. Drink Up
Water, that is. It’s cold out there and most people have their houses nicely heated this time of year. Combine that with the stressors of airplane travel, non-stop shopping, overeating, and increased alcohol intake, and dehydration can be an issue. Keep drinking your water to stay hydrated and energized.

5. Stay Connected
If you have a support system that helps you get through the rest of the year, don’t abandon it now. Exchange phone numbers or emails if you are traveling, and determine ahead of time the best method for getting, or giving, support during these next few weeks.

6. Get Real
Every year I watch as people motor off to the Normal Rockwell family Christmas they have created in their heads. And every year I watch them crawl back to work totally disillusioned and depressed. Get real about your family’s dynamics and how Christmases will really turn out. Having more realistic expectations will keep you from having that great letdown and will allow you to develop strategies for having a Christmas that is more realistically likely to happen.

Kellen Von Houser for Intent

Updated on December 13, 2010


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