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Taking care of yourself during the holidays: What you should know

At our Recharge Retreat, we heard from Mental Health Counselor Stephanie Cox, MS, LHMC on self-care, coping, and mental health. Read on for her tips on self-care during the holidays. 

Thanks to COVID-19, for many of us, the 2021 holiday season may be the first time in nearly two years we are traveling or visiting loved ones. 

But with that additional travel and holiday preparation can come stress and anxiety. According to Stephanie Cox, MS, LHMC, the holidays can bring a lot of extra pressure to meet expectations. 

Life will regularly deposit stress into our laps, but when it comes to the holiday season, there is extra pressure thanks to all the expectations the holidays bring…it comes down to expectations that run high for joy, for bringing the family together, for giving gifts for showing how much you love those around you, for a beautiful meal… 

What makes you stressed and anxious though may be different from what makes others stressed and anxious. Stephanie recommends visualizing holidays past and identifying which points were hardest. What is the main feeling there? Is it stress, worry, sadness, hope? 

Then think about why you may be feeling that way. Is it schedules, family disagreements, money, grieving a loss? Take one minute to sit with what it is, see that the feeling is there, and wait for a few moments. 

Now, it’s time to take action. Here are some tips for addressing your stress at home: 

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit. 

  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes. 

  3. Focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. 

  4. Naturally, thoughts will begin to arise. THIS IS OKAY. 

  5. When a thought floats in, note “I am thinking” and then return your focus to your breath. 

  6. At the end of the 5 minutes, reassess and see how you are feeling. 

It’s easier to deal with the stress of the knowns during the holidays, then it is to deal with the “unknowns,” or the things we can’t account for. Some common examples of unknowns include not knowing if your flight is going to make it, or the possibility of getting sick. 

“We make ourselves sick on the ‘what-ifs’, but this is nothing but a gateway to black and white thinking” Stephanie says. We imagine that only if things happen a certain, exact way, that is the only way we can be happy. But we need to get comfortable living in the gray. If XYZ thing that we’re worrying about doesn’t happen, what are some ways we can still be happy?

Here are some ways we can stay in control of our own actions and perceptions. 

  1. Shift focus away from attempting to manage others. 

  2. Remember, we can only control our own actions and perspectives — not those of others. 

  3. Avoid conditional thinking such as, “If only…‘so and so’ does this differently, or ‘such and such’ happens just so…then things would be okay.” Conditional thinking traps us in a room in which all the door knobs are on the outside, where others control whether we make it out or not. 

  4. Instead focus on flexible thinking, and acknowledging that no matter what comes, you will persevere. 

Finally, think about what it is about the holidays brings you joy. Is it the food? The weather? The smells? Follow this feeling and let it show you why it brings you joy. Maybe even write it down. 

Consider incorporating more of whatever feeling you’ve identified into your holiday plans – whether it’s more gingerbread or traveling to a favorite destination. 

“Just as we’re responsible for addressing our triggers with compassion and awareness, we’re responsible for adding meaning and joy to our lives,” Stephanie says. We hope that you take time for yourself over the last few weeks of 2021 to practice caring for yourself. 

Do you have any suggestions or tips you’d like to share about self-care during the holidays? Send them through to us at hello@agebold.com.