Written By: Lauren Barris, LCSW-C
Holidays got you stressed? Too much family time for your liking? Read on for a few tips on how to manage your stress during the holidays, keep negative emotions at bay, and stay effective even if your old habits (or relatives) are trying to drag you down.
My first tip is to make time for yourself. This sounds simple, and the internet is a-buzz with talk of self-care, but this one is not to be underestimated! Holiday time with family can uproot you from your comfy home environment and plop you down in a new place away from your routines and your support systems. You might be away from your pet, your own bed, your home cooking, your local gym, or your favorite stress-reducing routines (long showers, shameless bubble-baths, Netflix escapes, anyone?). This holiday season may also have uprooted you and plopped you down in an old place, possibly one that contains relatives or memories you’d rather steer clear of. These stressors are not to be taken lightly. Losing access to our usual routines and comforts raises our baseline stress level and makes us more vulnerable to experiencing intense negative emotions. Small triggers that we might typically be able to take in stride may seem far more challenging. So, in the midst of your festivities, carve out time for yourself. Make time to take a walk outside, just to tune back into yourself for a few moments. Prioritize keeping a few of your routines, whether for you that is exercise, healthy eating (in moderation, of course, we know it’s the holidays), getting enough sleep, or calling up a friend. Check out the following links for more DBT material on reducing vulnerability to negative emotions: https://healthypsych.com/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-please-mastery-technique-for-emotion-regulation/healthypsych.com/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-please-mastery-technique-for-emotion-regulation/ and https://dbtselfhelp.com/html/reduce_vulnerability.html
The second tip, and this is a three-parter, is to stay mindful of your priorities. If you find yourself in a stressful interaction, ask yourself what the real goal is. Do you need to prioritize getting your objective met? Do you need to prioritize keeping the relationship? Or do you need to prioritize your own self-respect? These are all important almost all of the time, but in any given interaction, we can usually pick out the one or two that top the list.
If you are at Walmart battling the clerk for that discount you saw, by all means, prioritize your objective! You might really need that gift item, and really need to not spend that extra money on it. What you don’t really need is for the Walmart clerk to be your new best friend. That being said, you also don’t want to lose all self-respect and end up a YouTube sensation. So, describe the facts of the situation to the clerk, express how it’s making you feel, ask for what you want, tell them how much you’ll appreciate it, and be a broken record if needed. Just be sure to stay as calm and effective as possible.
If, however, you are about to launch into a heated debate with your mother-in-law over how long your famous cookies need to stay in the oven, you may want to make sure you are prioritizing the wellbeing of that relationship a bit more than the wellbeing of your holiday cookies. So feel free to express your thoughts and opinion, but make sure you are staying gentle in your tone of voice, listening to (and acting interested in!) her opinion on the matter, validating her point of view, and using an easy manner (use a little humor, make light of it, or try a soft-sell). For this one, you may need to be willing to let go of your plan for flawless cookies, but your relationship will thank you.
When self-respect tops the list, the things you want to keep in mind are being fair to yourself and others involved, resisting the urge to over-apologize, sticking to your values, and staying truthful (no exaggerating!). These are things that will help you act in a way you can feel good about afterwards. So if your uncle is trying to tell you for the tenth time why President No. 45 is exactly what America needs, and if you are not quite on board with that, carefully consider weighing your self-respect against your relationship with your uncle before proceeding.
Clarifying priorities is always a balancing act, and the most effective course is different for everyone, in every situation. If you have any experience with DBT, you might recognize the skills above as DEAR MAN, GIVE, and FAST. If you’re itching for more info on these skills, check out the following webpages: https://www.optimumperformanceinstitute.com/dbt-treatment/bring-dbt-dear-man-skills-home-for-the-holidays/ for a run down of DEAR MAN, and https://www.optimumperformanceinstitute.com/dbt-treatment/dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt-give-skills-to-keep-relationships/ for a close look at GIVE.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Innovative Psychiatry, and good luck!