Wynn Coughlin LCSW, CADC

The holidays can be highly stressful and anxiety-provoking for many. It often involves multiple potentially stressful elements, including interacting with people whom we may not normally encounter. Working with a therapist can help to prepare for your unique holiday situation, although it is likely some common themes will emerge.

Find “the why.” Too often, we lose sight of the purpose of our behavior. Routine is important, yet it is all too easy to fall into the trap of doing things because we have always done them. If you tend to do the same activities, eat the same food, or see the same people every holiday, it is worthwhile to reconnect with “the why.” If it is not immediately clear, then it may be best for you to elect a purpose, such as to spend time with elderly family or to honor holy days. Having a clarified purpose allows values to dictate behavior, rather than inflamed emotions. Before attending, it can also be helpful to draft a gratitude list to direct your thinking in a more helpful direction. Consult this list as needed throughout the festivities.

Right? Or Happy? The past year has been filled with a litany of public incidents related to hot-button issues. Most of us have family members who disagree with our point of view and may even try to put down our beliefs. The holidays are an opportunity to practice restraint and patience. Remember that you do not have to convince anyone to believe what you believe and vice versa. Happiness and serenity depend upon two factors: gratitude and not taking others’ behavior personally. The things that others say and do are a greater reflection of them than of us, even if we are a character in the scene. Before attending, make a list of what you cannot control and a list of what you can to reference as needed.

Be a part of the solution. If anxiety, anger, or stress begin to emerge during the holiday, give that energy a productive outlet. If you are hosting, there is obviously no shortage of tasks which can serve as an impromptu distraction. If visiting, try to find dishes to clean, drinks to refresh, or positive praise to give. For however long you are there, make it your mission to be the best version of yourself. It can also be helpful to set a more concrete goal to work towards. For example, try to ask each person about at least specific aspect of their life or give each person an individualized compliment.

Recover and refresh. If these kinds of events trigger anxiety or send your introverted personality into overdrive, it is crucial that, after the festivities end, you have a way to wind down. Take time beforehand to ensure that you have all necessities on hand for self-care, including knowing your next therapy appointment. It may also be worthwhile to gift yourself with some kind of reward if you were able to avoid the typical holiday traps you may have fallen into previously.

In the majority of circumstances, there are individual actions we can take to improve a situation broadly. There are instances, however, in which it may be in your best interest to avoid spending time with family during the holidays. If you suspect this may be the case, it is worthwhile to evaluate the possible risks both of attending and not. If there is a fear of backlash for setting boundaries surrounding the holidays, it is advisable to seek out a therapist to help bolster your immunity against guilt-tripping or crazy-making behavior from others. Let Symmetry Counseling therapists help you have the healthiest holiday season yet!