December is here, and with it comes the full calendar of the holiday season. Decorating, shopping, gathering with those we love — the list goes on. All that defines the holidays for each of us can bring joy and laughter, but it can also be stressful, anxiety-inducing, and even lonely and emotionally painful. Kristin Smith, licensed counselor and Behavioral Health Representative with Parkridge Health System, says it’s completely normal to feel a mixture of all of these emotions. Some days may be filled with smiles, and other days might be spent missing a loved one. With so much pressure around the holidays, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself.
Seven tools for taking care
You might know that the best way to care for others is to care for yourself. However, knowing how to take care is entirely different — especially when you’re in the thick of the hectic holidays. Kristin provided seven tips to help lighten your load:
1. Share the responsibility and take the pressure off
Take time to readjust our idea that everything has to be perfect! We could keep that pressure all to ourselves or we could let it go and share the various responsibilities that arise in the midst of family gatherings. Everyone can contribute something to a gathering, so allow them to step up and be a part. That may mean we have to let go of our expectations of how something should be done, but if we embrace the imperfections, we might just be able to enjoy the time we have together with our families!
2. Preset healthy boundaries and know your limits
Presetting boundaries is about identifying beforehand what boundaries you need to stay in control of for yourself and anticipating thoughts, feelings and actions. These boundaries can include where you will stay, how long you will stay and what conversations you are comfortable taking part in. Identify topics you are not okay talking about and have a scripted “plan of action” of how to kindly communicate your boundaries. For example, if weight comments are commonly thrown around, and they are hurtful to you, you can choose to not engage in the conversation, change the topic, walk away or kindly say, “that statement is hurtful, please don’t comment on my body, thank you.”
3. Communicate clear expectations
If you are hosting a gathering, be clear about when you expect people to show up, when the meal is happening and when they need to leave. Communicating your expectations clearly helps everyone know the limits, and you can reinforce them as the time approaches.
4. Know your triggers and keep your cool
Identify your triggers and what healthy coping skills you need to implement to keep your cool. If being alone with a family member brings up a lot of pain, then have a plan to remain diligent in assuring that you are not alone with them. If people are drinking too much and start unhealthy interactions, have an exit plan. Identify a support person and let them know what you need from them. Allow them to keep you accountable.
5. Reminisce about loved ones who have passed and honor them in some way
Taking time to engage in grief is appropriate and healthy! It’s important to remember to take time to do something to help your heart balance the heaviness of grief. Cook a favorite recipe of a loved one, have everyone share a favorite memory of that person or take time to say, “We miss you, and you will always be in our hearts” in a way that soothes your heart. You can also take a moment and whisper, “I love and miss you,” write a letter to them or participate in any other activity that makes you feel connected to them.
6. Engage in the present moment with laughter
We know the old saying, “laughter is good for the soul,” and it turns out it’s really true! Give yourself permission to laugh and engage in something that makes you smile in little and big ways. Play a silly game, watch a comedy, laugh in reminiscing about past moments, smile at someone, enjoy a baby’s cooing and embrace the joy in the moment.
7. Afterward, identify things that went well and express gratitude
What we focus on grows! It’s quite easy to identify all the ways things that went wrong, but choose to purposely be mindful of the little and big things that went right! This will help frame our thoughts to remember the laughter and joy, which will provide sweet holiday memories for years to come.
To learn more about mental health services offered at Parkridge Health, visit our mental health and wellness page. If you or someone you know needs immediate mental care services, please go to the nearest emergency room.
From all of us at Parkridge Health, we hope you take care this holiday season.