Do you want to know what is astonishing to me as a therapist? That the holidays are the most stressful time of year and still people tend to either delay therapy or take longer breaks from therapy than normal because it is the holidays. I propose that this year we do therapy from grandma’s house for everyone’s sake. Seriously.
You can start therapy online and then connect in person when you return to town or you can keep up with your existing therapy while you make the family rounds or holiday adventures by hoping on a virtual session.
Imagine this; the second day at your family’s house and you feel a bit unstable but ready to push through. Instead of muddling through and surviving the mess, you hop on a call with your therapist and in 50 minutes or less get invaluable insight into how to make the rest of the holiday work wonderfully for you as well as how to get the most out of your interactions with your family. You walk away with the best gift of the season; skills and resources to have the best holiday with the family you’ve had since you were a kid or maybe ever.
Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs over the holidays.
Christmas has one of the highest suicide rates of the year. This is not to be taken lightly. While there are some amazing opportunities for connection and kindness in humanity that holidays also invite choices that we wouldn’t usually make. We may drink more, spend more, and do more than is the ideal balance for our well-being. It is an extended season of excess. Excess as an outlier can be a great opportunity to enjoy the sweet parts of life. When we try to sustain excess over long periods of time we experience prolonged stress.
The prolonged stress of the holiday season can affect our sleeping, eating, and body care.
When we don’t sleep, eat or take care of our body our brain function diminishes cumulatively. Essentially our brain has lower-quality baseline thoughts. Think about those days when you seem to be in a good mood. If you check out the kind of thoughts you seem to be having by default on those days you will find that your brain is assuming the best of people. In contrast to a day that seems harder for you, those days your baseline thoughts default to assuming the worst in people.
When we don’t take care of our brain by giving it the variety of functions it needs to stay healthy including challenges, excitement, play, and rest, our brains don’t work very well. This balance is hard enough for any of us in our day-to-day lives, but add in family, and social pressures with our own interests in indulgence and the holidays are a bit of a setup for many of us.
I personally love challenges and indulgence and I don’t want to bail on the holidays.
But take it from a therapist, it is wise to have a game plan for the holidays. In addition to making sure you have appointments scheduled IN ADVANCE with your therapist here are a few other tips I have and use myself to get the most out of the holidays.
- Don’t spend more than 3-4 days of uninterrupted time with family unless you know it’s just awesome and relaxing for you.
- Consider celebrating the holidays you will celebrate a week or two before or after. There’s just something about shifting the celebration away from when the whole world is doing the same thing that seems to diffuse the stress for everyone and I see people have noticeably more effective family dynamics when everyone isn’t personally stressed by the lines and pressure of the day of the holiday.
- If you know you get anxious at holiday gatherings take good care of yourself before and after the event. If you have an anxiety attack at the event but don’t want to leave you can go to the bathroom to reset. Look around in a way that requires your eyes to travel in the socket. Consciously ask yourself, am I safe? This may sound strange but the brain is essentially decided you are not safe without you realizing it when you are anxious. So we go right for the problem. Am I safe? The answer is yes. (I mean if you are really not safe at this event you shouldn’t be there anyway). Once you establish safety and look around then slow down. Lower your bar for yourself and do whatever you think will feel easy. One moment at a time.
- If you get depressed over the holidays here are a few specific tips for depression. Get sleep and do cardio exercise. Actually, if this is all you did each day you’d likely be above your baseline. Cardio exercise is especially good for depression. Besides this, try the cognitive behavioral therapy technique of accounting for what has gone right. You have to be specific about that day. So something like I am grateful that our flight was on time today. It is NOT I am grateful for my family. The specificity and proximity are absolutely the difference between gratitude working in your brain and not.
The very best tip is to cultivate honesty. Not criticism, honesty.
Criticism is honesty without vulnerability. It’s the coward’s honesty. We have all been there, but it just won’t get you to want you’re looking for. If you are being honest, therapy from grandma’s house is a great idea. If you can’t get a good spot in the house you can do your therapy from the car. You would be surprised how many people each week do their therapy from their car. While it may not seem ideal, therapy from the Starbucks parking lot by grandma’s house is so ideal when the alternative is no therapy at all.
Give yourself the give of ease and well-being so that you can share that gift with everyone you love.
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