Holiday Stress Bubbling Up? Learn How to Cope with Family and Isolation
If you find yourself feeling lonely or stressed this holiday season, know that you’re not the only one. A national survey of 2,000 U.S. adults found 88% of us feel stressed over the holidays. For some, this holiday stress comes from old family tension and endless to-do lists. For others separated from their loved ones this year, isolation and loneliness may be the sources of stress.
No Matter Where Your Holiday Stress Comes From, We Encourage You to Reflect and Practice Self Love this Year.
No matter who you’re with or how you’re celebrating this holiday season, know that you are loved and that you’re not alone. While many don’t talk about it, the holidays can be tough for numerous reasons and the first step you can take for yourself is to accept how you feel. Your feelings are valid and deserve respect and care. In taking that first step and honoring yourself, you may find it easier to move through those in-the-moment family frustrations or feelings of loneliness from the distance between you and your loved ones.
Coping with Family Stress During the Holidays
Let’s talk specifically about stress from families over the holidays. We like to think that getting together with family over the holidays is a time of shared love and gratitude, but as many of us know – this isn’t always how festivities unfold.
Old tensions from unresolved family feuds can flare up, childhood habits and behaviors rush back to us… Or you may feel stressed by everything you “have to get done,” from rushing to prepare the house for your 20+ relatives to putting the finishing touches on gifts.
If you’re feeling the stress set in this holiday season, take a breath. You deserve to enjoy this time alongside your loved ones. For extra support, try some of the tips below.
6 Tips To Stay Calm and Connected Over The Holidays >
1. Get specific about the roots of your holiday stress.
The first thing you should do is get specific about where your holiday stress is coming from. Is it from your list of to-dos that never seems to stop growing? Is it from certain family members who make comments meant to drag you into a fight or who make you feel unseen for who you are?
Other sources of family stress can include:
- Relatives who you typically avoid, but can’t this time of year. They may not recognize key parts of your identity or actively dismiss them, prompting old behaviors and habits to flare up.
- Challenging memories and unresolved tensions from childhood can pop back up.
- Gatherings that feel scripted. For some, seeing family make the same jokes, eat the same food, and tell the same stories each year can be a bit draining and lead to you feeling like things never change.
- Family dynamics and members have changed. If there was a divorce, a death in the family, or family members coming home for the first time in a while, sometimes holiday stress comes from how much has changed.
- An endless to-do list. Because of everything that “needs to get done,” many might find they can’t enjoy themselves because they constantly feel like they need to be doing things.
It can be tough, but getting specific about what is making you feel worried and unhappy is the first step to dealing with those stressors directly.
2. Learn to shift your expectations.
We tend to over-idealize the holidays when the truth is most of us experience stress. So don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling – if you feel hurt, it’s okay to feel hurt. Denying our feelings only makes them last longer, so instead try accepting your feelings and the idea that it’s okay to not feel okay during the holidays.
3. Regain control.
The holidays often make us feel overwhelmed and out of control. Instead of letting the holidays control you, try regaining control over the holidays by questioning your “essential” list of to-dos.
What if you didn’t have to run at the last minute to five grocery stores to get the exact brand of cranberry sauce aunt Muriel requested? What if you didn’t have to have all the decorations up before family arrives? What if you could take a break just for yourself?
Ease the burden of what needs to get done, learn that it’s okay to say no, lean on your loved ones for support, prioritize activities and loved ones who bring you joy – make sure you’re getting the chance to enjoy the holidays for yourself too.
5. Be prepared for conflict and how you want to handle it.
No one pushes our buttons like family and it’s really easy to get dragged back into old ways of behaving when we’re surrounded by family members that haven’t changed. Maybe your sister still cuts you off or your cousins make the same jokes that get under your skin. Being mindful of the behaviors that might pop up will help you manage them and choose responses more aligned with how you want to act. You can even involve a friend to help you practice and give feedback so you’re ready to keep your cool at all times over the holidays.
6. Identify a lifeline you can call if things go downhill.
Having a trusted friend or ally you can call to let off steam about family stress during the holidays can be a real lifesaver. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64% of people with mental illness like depression or anxiety find the holidays prompt their conditions to worsen . So instead of letting the pressure build until it erupts and takes a toll on your mental health, reach out to someone you trust where you feel free to express yourself.
7. Set boundaries with family members that display toxic behaviors.
It’s perfectly alright to choose to not spend the holidays with certain loved ones. If there are relatives or loved ones in your life who display toxic behaviors, you’re well within your right to create clear, respectful boundaries that support what you need to feel good over the holidays. Maybe that’s celebrating with just your close family or having a celebration amongst chosen family and friends. Choose what’s right for you.
Coping with Isolation During the Holidays
Many people may find themselves celebrating the holidays alone this year, whether due to family tension or wanting to protect older loved ones from the potential of COVID. NAMI found that of 755 respondents, 66% felt lonely over the holidays, so if this sounds like you, trust us – you’re not alone.
1. Embrace equanimity and manage expectations.
Like we mentioned above, it’s important to manage your expectations. Equanimity can be described as a state of mental calmness and evenness of temper, even when confronted by challenging situations. Accepting the reality of your situation can help you create acceptance, calm, and even joy within your circumstances, rather than leave you longing for something that might not happen this year.
2. Cultivate self-compassion.
If you’re spending the holidays on your own this year, it’s important to treat yourself with kindness and encourage self-compassion. Allow yourself to feel whatever you might be feeling. If you feel sad, give voice to your sadness. Label what’s making you sad and accept it as a part of yourself. Take the opportunity to celebrate yourself, whether that’s by planning an evening just for you, enjoying some spa time, reading a good book, getting outside, or learning something new.
3. Get creative in connecting with others.
You might not be able to physically visit loved ones, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with people! Facetime can facilitate virtual family gatherings and make it easier to connect with more socially isolated older adults in your family. You can also get creative in writing meaningful letters of gratitude back and forth, giving you a pleasant and heart-warming surprise whenever you see a letter arrive in the mail. Here are some other tips to help you not feel so lonely even if you’re alone:
Tips For When You Feel Lonely >
4. Cultivate gratitude.
What are you grateful for? When we’re feeling lonely, especially over the holidays, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have. But when we reflect from a place of gratitude, it becomes easier to invite feelings of joy, love, and acceptance into our lives. Gratitude makes us feel more connected and less lonely. You can actualize your gratitude by giving back, whether that’s by buying and delivering food to people in need or donating to a cause you care about.
5. Practice loving-kindness meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a distinct type of meditation meant to cultivate kindness towards oneself and others, including towards negative experiences and sources of emotion. A study conducted in 2008 found that “even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of social connection and positivity”. So if you’re looking for coping strategies, try sending out positive messages of love and kindness to the world, yourself, and specific people – even those that cause you stress. Research suggests that loving-kindness meditation can boost positive emotions , so if you’re missing friends and family this holiday season, practicing LKM could help.
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