Navigating Holiday Stress (while in a pandemic)
The holidays can be overwhelming at the best of times. Adding a pandemic to the mix doesn’t help ease the stress and anxiety that pops up around this time of year. Below, we have compiled advice from CITC therapists on how to enjoy the holiday season while taking care of your mental health
Many of us struggle with expectations when it comes to the holidays. There’s a heightened level of pressure for everything to be ‘perfect’ or more special than usual. When we invest so much time in planning events, shopping for meaningful gift or getting the most festive decorations, it’s hard not to feel let down when things don’t go according to plan.
With the fast-growing number of COVID cases, we’re faced with the cold realization that holiday plans are being affected. Cancelled parties, travel plans interrupted and seeing loved ones now poses risks we didn’t expect only a month ago. It’s normal to feel disappointed when expectations aren’t met. However, focusing on what the holidays “should” be or fixating on what is missing can put a strain on mental well-being. Try expressing gratitude by focusing on what you do have. Limiting social media usage around this time can be beneficial. Staring at other peoples’ highlight reels can lead to unhealthy comparisons.
Managing family relationships can also be difficult around the holidays. It’s important to expect family members to be themselves. Carrying around idealistic expectations of who we wish our family was or how we want them to behave will only set us up for unnecessary disappointment and aggravation. Acknowledge that not everyone in our lives can provide us with the type of support that we want or need. Being mindful of who we can count on for specific things can be helpful in tailoring our expectations of others. While we may want our family to be a reliable source of support in all areas, that is likely unrealistic. A helpful exercise to manage these expectations can include creating a list of all the arms of support you have in your life (e.g., partner, parent, child, friend, colleague) and identify the top 1-2 types of support (e.g., emotional, informational, esteem) they are good at providing you with. If you notice you’re not receiving a type of support that you would like in your life, make a plan on how you might acquire that through new or existing relationships.
It’s easy to feel burned out around the holidays, so remember to set personal boundaries. Being aware of the things in our lives that drain us and those that provide us with energy is crucial. Try asking yourself a couple questions using a water/cup analogy such as: What things/activities/people take water out of your cup? What signals can you use from your body/mind/emotions to tell you that your cup is beginning to drain? What signals can you use to tell you when your cup is nearing empty? Conversely, what things/activities/people help to refill your cup? What signals can you use from your body/mind/emotions to acknowledge that your cup is topping up? It’s important to be in tune with our own minds, emotions and bodies and to create boundaries that prevent us from feeling drained.
With the uncertainty of the pandemic, we’ve also had to determine what our comfort levels are when engaging in certain activities. Keep in mind that your friends may be willing to take risks that you aren’t comfortable with. You might even feel pressure or guilt to let go of your boundaries. Remember that it’s important to stand your ground, and clearly communicate your feelings with loved ones. You do not need to defend your choices when it comes to this virus. Ensure that you are prioritizing and taking care of your own health and mental wellbeing.
The holidays may be about spending time with those you care about, but make sure to carve out some time for yourself! This can be done by engaging in activities you find enjoyable and peaceful during this time of year, whether that’s going for a walk in the snow, catching up on a book or a show, or simply finding time not to rush during the day. Staying active is also key to getting those feel-good endorphins. If keeping up with your regular workout routine is tricky, try going for walks or go skating with the family. Just keep up some level of physical activity and try to get out into nature to enjoy what the winter has to offer.
Lastly, do take a “time out” by going outside for a few deep breaths when feeling overwhelmed. Use grounding and breathing strategies to regain your calm. Over the season, remember to stay tuned into the moment so as not to lose sight of noticing pleasurable experiences during the holiday celebrations. Despite all the stress that comes along with COVID-19, it is crucial to set aside some time for yourself.
Celebrating the holidays during a pandemic is not easy. Approach the season with compassion and kindness. Also remember to cut yourself some slack- we’re all doing our best! Thank you to all our valued CITC clients, we look forward to reconnecting in the New Year.