Pandemic or not, holidays can be stressful. Traveling gets chaotic; even being at home with a smaller segment of your family during a pandemic can feel chaotic! Family members can love each other dearly AND know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Gift giving and receiving can be fraught with hopes and expectations (and gifts can be expensive during a time of financial insecurity). Days get shorter, while to-do lists get longer. Sleep can take a toll. Things are not going to go perfectly; be sure to remember values such as rest and joy. With a few little tweaks to your holiday approach, you can mitigate stress and (hopefully) maximize some holiday joy.
Give Yourself Time for Rest
Prioritize legitimate rest. It is common to think “downtime” is good enough rest, but if possible, be sure to allot some time to fully disconnect from your jobs and other stressors, maybe even from sources of “eustress” (positive stress, like sports). Unplug and consider avoiding contact with co-workers, bosses, teammates, or coaches to give yourself physical and mental space between yourself and your regular routine. Try reading a book you have been putting off, watching a movie with your family with your phones left in another room, or going for a technology free walk! Remind yourself that being out-of-contact and recharging are necessary for long-term work productivity and sustainability.
Intentionally feeling/expressing gratitude is a worthwhile pursuit year-round. This practice has been shown to increase satisfaction in sport/jobs, to enhance feelings of social support, and decrease distress and burnout. Gratitude, positive emotions, positive relationships, better physical and mental health, and overall well-being are experiences that are all linked. Thinking concretely, gratitude can be expressed to others out loud, or practiced by writing or journaling for yourself. Gratitude neither has to depend on certain outcomes (e.g. feeling grateful for the opportunity to compete vs. winning), nor sharing what you are grateful for with others. Cultivating gratitude mitigates holiday stress.
Giving all of yourself to others, without treating yourself with the same kindness, is a recipe for compassion fatigue. Be sure to tune into your own needs. Validate your own emotions by acknowledging “this is really difficult right now” and ask yourself “how can I comfort and care for myself right now?” It is human to make mistakes, to experience hardship, and to sometimes fail; be kind to yourself, just like you would aspire to do for others. In fact, it makes it easier to be compassionate with others when you start with yourself. Also, avoid catastrophizing; know that having a holiday meal WITH dessert with your family won’t throw off your entire diet. Be flexible with yourself!
Open your minds and hearts to the reality of tough emotions, decisions, and other challenges, and practice compassion towards yourself. To learn more about self-compassion, follow this link to Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.
Coping with Covid Restricted Holidays
Most of us have never experienced anything quite like the COVID pandemic. Planning for holidays spent together or apart has been especially stressful; this SNL skit brings some levity to that reality. Humor is one of many ways to cope. Humor is one thing, but don’t bother pretending that “everything’s fine.” Some other coping strategies may look like:
- Be honest with emotions and your boundaries
- Assertively communicate any concerns you may have over traveling or families getting together
- Practice acceptance of your emotions, and others’ emotions
- Find “good enough” solutions like family Zoom time
Know that this year’s holiday season looks significantly different than others, but that this situation is temporary. Do what you can to make the best out of a tough situation. Controlling the controllables can help us cope with the negative feelings we may have about the virus and missing out on traditional holiday celebrations.
Embrace a variety of effective coping strategies for holiday stress; or really, any stress any time. Allow yourself to have time for rest, set boundaries, practice gratitude, and be compassionate towards yourself and others through difficult emotions and hardships. Alone, or in combination, these practices can help you to enjoy the holidays for what they are, a time for spreading joy, inclusivity, and love.