The Holiday Season usually starts around Halloween and doesn’t end until after New Year’s Day. While the holidays can absolutely be a wonderful time where you get to spend time with those that matter the most to you while creating new and happy, cherishable memories, it can also be incredibly stressful and anxiety producing as well.
The stress usually tends to really hit many people hard around Christmas time when you are going broke buying your friends and family presents for the holiday. Some people max out their credit cards this time of year and are left with a pile of debt when it’s all over. Many people stress over their finances. I know I do. The holiday season can be expensive for the average person who is barely surviving paycheck to paycheck. Then you also have to worry about buying and preparing a delicious meal on Christmas Day for your loved ones. You have to decide where you are going to go and who you are going to visit and then you have to figure out time management to make everything run smoothly.
Some people find themselves surrounded by family drama this time of year. Other people are struggling to deal with the holidays alone. Christmas time can feel like a blur to so many people because there is so much to do, think about, and prepare.
If you find yourself overwhelmed and stressed during this time of year, you are not alone. There are things you can do and try in order to minimize your stress and anxiety levels. These are tips that I have learned from my own experience as well as from others who have been there too. Feel free to try everything on this list until you find something that works for you. You will never know unless you try. Make a list of what worked for you and put it in your wallet or purse so that when you need to destress you already have a list of things that helped on you so you can visually look at what you need to do instead of trying to think of coping mechanisms on the spot.
I don’t know about you, but when I am in meltdown mode it’s like my brain turns to mush and I can’t recall any of the skills I have learned that are usually drilled into my head. It’s like my mind goes blank. So, having that piece of paper to look at can be really beneficial.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to using some of the coping mechanisms on this list is that the more you practice the coping skill of your choice, especially if you use the method when you are in a good state of mind, the more likely the mechanism is to work when you need it the most. It’s about persistence. If you try a coping mechanism for the first time ever during a time of stress without practicing it when you are feeling mentally well, there is a chance that whatever you are trying won’t work for you at that moment.
When you think about it, if you try a coping mechanism for the first time ever when you are under a lot of stress your brain is already on overload and now it is trying to learn something new at the same time. It can sometimes feel overwhelming and you may just give up and think the coping skill didn’t work and is pointless. So just remember to practice some of the methods on a daily basis to help you feel more relaxed.
Get Organized & Make Lists
Being unorganized, especially during the holidays, can create some unneeded chaos in your life. Try to make lists. Make a list for the people you want to buy gifts for and add what you plan on getting them. This way you aren’t frantically trying to remember who you still need to get gifts for. Plus, since you also wrote down what you plan on getting them it makes shopping for the present easier and takes out all the guess work.
If you are the one buying and preparing Christmas dinner, make a list of everything you plan on making and then create another list with everything that you have to purchase for the meal. It is easy to forget things at the grocery store when you don’t have a shopping list with you. I can’t even tell you how many times I went to the store for one thing and walked out with everything but what I actually needed.
If you have a lot to get done for the holiday before your guests arrive or before you leave to go to a loved one’s house on Christmas Day, make a to-do list when you can check off or cross out tasks as they are completed. There is something about marking tasks as complete that can make you feel good and accomplished.
Make Some Time for You
The holiday season can make some people feel rushed and overwhelmed. You may spend your time thinking about what everyone else’s wants and needs while neglecting your wants and needs. No matter how busy your schedule is, set aside a minimum of 30 minutes every day to take a time out just for you so that you can destress and unwind. This is known as self-care.
Do something for yourself that makes you happy and that you enjoy. Take a hot bath or shower. Read a few chapters in the book that you’re hooked on. You can meditate, journal, practice any form of self-care that you want. Just make sure that whatever you do for those 30 minutes is solely for you.
Let your household members know that you are taking time for you on a daily basis and not to disturb you unless it’s an absolute emergency. Enjoy some privacy and take some deep breaths. Even on Christmas Day make sure to set aside some time for yourself. You deserve it.
Take Some Relaxing Deep Breathes
A few times a day, take a moment to just stop and breathe. Take some deep breathes for a minute. Inhale 1… 2… 3… 4… Exhale 1… 2… 3… 4… and repeat. Deep breathing can naturally relax the body and help lower your heart rate.
The reason I say to do this a few times a day is because when you are really stressed or anxious and need to use deep breathing as a relaxation technique, it can have a higher success rate of helping you since you have been practicing it regularly. My therapists have always stressed the importance of practicing coping mechanisms daily so that they work when you need them to.
Try This Mindfulness Technique
This technique requires you to use all five of your senses. Take some lotion and put in on your hands but don’t rub it in. Think about how the lotion feels on your hand. Is it smooth? Creamy? Lumpy?
Think about what it looks like. Take in the color. Did the lotion form a shape that looks like something else in your hand?
Next use your sense of smell and really take in the scent of the lotion. What does it smell like? Is it floral or sweet?
Next, use your sense of hearing. Obviously, lotion doesn’t make noise but squish it around in your hand and listen to the sounds it makes. What does it sound like?
Last but not least, (do not actually taste the lotion) use your sense of taste. What do you think it would taste like? Does the smell it gives off make you feel like you can taste the lotion? Would it be oily or taste like straight chemicals?
This mindfulness coping mechanism can help ground you and bring you back into the moment. Try this when you are calm to get an idea of what you will be doing when you try this while stressed or anxious. This technique can help lower your stress and anxiety levels. It takes you away from everything that was weighing you down at the time.
Take in Your Environment
This is another coping mechanism that requires you to use your senses just like the mindfulness exercise. When you are feeling really stressed or anxious or even overwhelmed, stop what you are doing and look around at your environment. If you have to, go to an area where there is no one else around. Take in your settings and start naming things that you can see. You can say chair, purse, door, a brown shirt, just start naming some things that you can see.
Next, take in the smell of the area. What does it smell like? Is there a candle lit? Is someone baking? Is there a foul smell? Try to think of all the different scents that you are taking in.
Use your sense of touch and feel something that is near you. What does it feel like? Is it smooth, hard, jagged, squishy? Take in all the edges or corners or and focus on what it feels like in your hand.
Next, use your hearing and pick out all the sounds that you hear. Are there people talking? Is their music on? Is it completely silent? Do you hear car horns?
Finally, imagine what an item or object would taste like if you were to put it in your mouth but don’t really ingest or lick anything that is not edible. Say you have a shirt in your hand, think about what it would taste like. Would it taste like laundry detergent? Someone’s perfume? Or even worse, someone’s body odor?
Like the mindfulness exercise with the lotion, this technique can help ground you and bring you back to the moment. It can make you feel a bit more relaxed or at ease because you got what was bothering you off your mind for a bit.
Walk Away & Breathe
When you are under a lot of stress and the environment you are in is taking you to your boiling point, just walk away from the situation for a few minutes to try to deep breathe and maybe get some fresh air. If it is another person causing you stress, tell them you need a moment to yourself and just walk away. Perhaps step outside for fresh air.
Walking away isn’t a bad thing. It can also let others know that you have had enough. Especially during arguments and disagreements which tend to happen for some families more often during holiday get togethers. If you stay right where you are without walking away and you are arguing with someone there is always the chance that you or the other person might say something that you can’t take back and that you will later regret.
Return to the situation or person once you have calmed down and feel like you can handle what’s going on.
One great way to get things out and off your chest is to journal. You can write about whatever comes to your mind since it is for your eyes only. Journaling can help people solve some of their problems or situations by writing everything out. When you write things out, you’re also analyzing what you are saying and sometimes you can see things clearer than before. You might take notice to something that completely slipped your mind or that you haven’t thought of before.
Journaling is helpful and beneficial for everyone, but especially for people with mental health conditions. It’s not good to hold everything in because one day you will reach your boiling point and everything will start to spill over and create a whole new mess.
Take some time to journal every day. My therapist even suggested putting your journal in the bathroom so that when you are going potty and have nothing else to do, you can write a little bit and get some things out.
When you are really stressed, journaling can be your go to so that you can get your emotions and feelings out. Journaling isn’t just for preteen girls writing about their latest crush. You can honestly journal at any age.
Play Some Relaxation Music or Sounds
When the stress if getting to you, take a moment to get your headphones out and put on some music that will relax your mind and body. If you have Spotify or Amazon Music, you can search for relaxation sounds and a whole big list will appear with a variety of tracks to choose from. You can even search for calming sounds such as a thunderstorm or ocean waves.
While you are listening to the music, remember to take in some deep breathes. Deep breathing while listening to something relaxing can further help melt your stress away.
Cuddle a Furbaby
If you have a furbaby, you already know that spending some time cuddling with them can be calming. Pick up your cat or dog and pet them. Show them some loving. Maybe even play with your furbaby for a bit. It might be just enough to help you calm down and destress.
Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
There is something known as progressive muscle relaxation. The easiest way to do this is to listen to a guided progressive muscle relaxation track. They can be found on YouTube, Spotify, or Amazon Music. The guided tape will walk you through the steps. It is best if you are laying down or sitting in a comfortable chair. The guided tape will have you tensing and relaxing certain muscle groups at a time, usually starting with your feet and going all the way to the top of your head. This technique can be so relaxing and calming that some people fall asleep while doing it.
These are just a few methods that you can use to help lower your stress and anxiety levels. It would be best to try them all and see which ones work best for you. When it comes to coping methods, what works for one person might not work for another. We are all unique and have to try to find things that best suit us. You will never know what works best for you if you don’t give them a try.
It is better to have a list of coping mechanisms that you know work for you so that you have multiple things to try when you are not feeling your best. You might try one coping mechanism that works one day buy fails the next so it is good to have backups. But like I mentioned earlier, it is best to physically write a list of coping techniques that have worked for you in the past in case your mind goes blank while under stress. Keep the list on you at all times.Believe me, it can really come in handy when you least expect it.
I hope you are able to try some or all of these methods and that you find something that work well for you!
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Samantha is the author of "My Bipolar Mind: You're not alone," she is also a freelance writer, blogger, and mental health advocate who runs and manages her own mental health blog MyBipolarMind.com.