There’s no denying it: The days are growing cooler and darker, autumn is here, and winter is on its way.
As a licensed mental health and substance use clinician at Howard Center’s outpatient counseling program, I know that this time of year means I will see more people who are looking for help as they anticipate the stress of increased family obligations and community expectations. In fact, for those who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, or other personal difficulties, this time of year may not feel very festive at all.
So, when I was thinking about writing an article about how to cope with the stress that frequently accompanies the holiday season, my first thought was do people in our community really want to hear from another professional about the same tips they probably read about each year. I am familiar with the usual list of suggestions which I review with many of the people I work with, and I often review and rely on them for myself, as well. Why? Because these tips do help! And they are worth being shared again:
• Keep your regular routine.
• Think moderation.
• Be realistic in your expectations.
• Stay connected.
• Bypass guilt at every opportunity.
• Don’t be alone, if you don’t want to be.
• Focus on today, not yesterday.
• Just say no.
• Ask for help if you need it.
• Be good to yourself.
In addition to these tried-and-true suggestions, I turned to some of the experts—people I am fortunate to work with who have accumulated their own survival techniques based on their experiences. I asked if they were willing to share their tips and strategies for coping through the holiday season and afterwards. Here’s what they had to say:
• Do only what you can. Take breaks, if you need to, go to your bedroom or leave a party early.
• Don’t be a perfectionist; keep it simple.
• You don’t have to fit all your celebrating into one day.
• Don’t bring up hot topics at social gatherings.
• Don’t take it too seriously, and have fun.
• If you don’t get along with certain people, avoid spending time with them, or keep it short if you do see them.
• Engage in activities that you really enjoy, such as exercise, art projects, and reading.
• Attend therapy, if needed.
• Practice meditation.
• Volunteer for a local organization.
• Surround yourself with supportive family and loved ones.
• Think about less stressful alternatives for preparing or hosting a special meal. Ask guests to bring a dish to share–potlucks can save the day!
• You don’t need to do it all. Think about the people, traditions, and activities that mean the most to you and focus on those.
So as the days get shorter and colder, adjust your expectations to what is reasonable and enjoyable for you. They may help you enjoy the holiday season more and may even help to take the edge off the shorter, colder, days of winter. And remember, even though in some years winter may seem incredibly long, spring will always come, bringing with it warmer temperatures and longer days.
Kerry Stout, LICSW, LADC
Program Manager, Howard Center