Note: I am writing this article from my perspective of the holiday season, which is very Christmas-centric. Having said that, I believe that at least some of these hints can be applied to other holiday season celebrations.
The holidays are promoted, to an almost obnoxious level, as being a time of great joy and merriment. Families come around, delicious food is eaten, presents are exchanged, and a wonderful time is had by all.
In actuality, the reality is not so clear-cut. For many of us, the holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year, for any of a number of reasons. Some of us have tense relationships with people we are obliged to spend time with during the holidays. Others dislike the way the holiday season deviates from our normal schedules. Still others associate the holidays with negative emotions and/or experiences.
I enjoy the holidays myself, but I would be lying if I said there haven’t been times when I have been anxious or stressed out, despite all of the festive cheer around me. To help me get through those difficult moments, I use any of a number of useful tactics I have picked up over the years.
Go Through Your Gifts
If your holiday celebrations involve giving and receiving gifts, you may find yourself with a collection of presents waiting to be given closer attention. And if you feel anxious, stressed, or sad at any point, you may find it therapeutic to sit down and give that collection of presents the attention it needs. Perhaps you received a puzzle or a game that you want to try out. Maybe you got art supplies or something sports-related that you could test. Or you might have received gifts that fall under different ‘categories’ that you can spend time organising, or putting away, or displaying. Spending time with your new possessions can be a useful way to step away, take a breath, and appreciate what you have been given.
This is a particularly useful tactic when the need arises to step out, perhaps because the room has become too crowded/noisy, or the topic of conversation is upsetting to you. If you need to leave, ask if anybody needs a drink/snack refill. For one thing, if you are worried about looking rude or suspicious, the promise of bringing back nourishment for others could help to assuage that worry. Also, the physical act of preparing drinks or snacks could help to relieve some of the stress or anxiety you might be feeling.
Have a Book/Game or Craft Project Handy
I often had to go to big Christmas celebrations with masses of people when I was a child, and I would frequently want to remain in the same space the people I was with, but not want to engage in conversation. If the other people were not bothered about my being involved in the conversation, I found that having a book or a video game with me made that possible. If the other people wanted me to at least appear as though I was a part of the conversation, I found that having a craft project with me (a cross-stitch or a work of crochet, for example) enabled me to look like I was involved, without being fully involved. The best activity to have handy depends entirely on the situation, but the idea is to have a way to ‘leave’ the space, without physically leaving the space.
Establish Banned Topics of Conversation
Some of us dread the holiday season because of the possibility for certain topics of conversation – topics that upset us greatly – to be brought up. These topics could be anything, but some of the more common ones I have come across include dieting/weight loss, religion, federal politics, and problematic acquaintances. If there are topics of conversation that you do not want discussed while you are around, I would highly recommend requesting that those topics be banned ahead of time. Alternatively, if you don’t feel confident requesting the ban yourself, you could recruit somebody you trust to request it for you. I realise this may sound like a drastic measure to some, and it might be impossible for others, but if you are able to do it, it could save you a lot of unnecessary distress.
Tell Your Family/Friends How You’re Feeling
If you are lucky enough to spend your holidays with people you trust with your emotions, being honest and telling them how you are feeling might be hugely beneficial. Explain that you are not feeling good, explain why (if you can), and let them know if there is anything they can do. Sometimes the simple act of talking about our feelings is enough to relieve them. If the feelings are still there, at least now other people know and might be able to help. Unfortunately, many people do not get to spend their holidays with people they trust. If that is the case, the next tactic might be more useful.
Have a Friend on Contactable Standby
Some of us are obligated to spend our holidays in places, or with people, that cause us distress. If that sounds like you, one thing you might find helpful is to have somebody you trust who you can contact. You may only be able to contact them by text, or by a daily phone call, but as long as there is some sort of connection between you and the trustworthy person, this tactic should work. The idea is that you keep connected to somebody you trust; somebody who represents safety, while you are away. This will hopefully relieve some of your holiday stress.
Spend Time with a Trustworthy Person
I have anxiety troubles myself, and my anxiety can come forward at random moments during the holiday season. When that happens, I like to ask my brother to play a board game with me. Why do I ask my brother? Because he is a fun person to be around, he cheers me up, and I know he won’t do or say anything that will make me more anxious. Board games happen to be an activity that my brother and I enjoy doing together, but any sort of joint activity with a trustworthy person will achieve the same result.
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Have a Nap
Sometimes everything about the holidays is too much, and the best solution is to take a break from them for a short period of time. If you are the sort of person who falls asleep easily, then a nap is probably the best, safest, and healthiest way to take that break. Napping also has the benefit of refreshing the body and mind, so the holiday season may be easier to handle once you wake up.
More Radical Reads: Have a Strategy: 6 Steps to Ease Social Anxiety This Holiday Season
Go for a Walk
Following on from the point above, you might need to take a break from the holidays, but not be able to easily fall asleep. If that is the case, walking is another alternative. The act of putting on shoes, going outside, breathing in the fresh air and pounding the pavements offers a brief change of perspective that you might find beneficial. As well as that, the feeling of your body moving, and the fresher air getting into your lungs, could help to work out some of your holiday stresses.
Stick to Your Routine as Much as Possible
Many people find comfort and stability in our routines. The holiday season tends to force us to deviate from our routines, which can be destabilising and, consequently, stressful. If you are somebody who functions better with your routine, the holiday season might be less stressful if you stick to your routine as well as you can. Try to do things like wake up at your normal time, do your regular exercise, eat your standard breakfast (as opposed to fancy ‘holiday’ breakfasts), make your bed, check your emails, etc. You might find that you only need to do a few specific things to feel like you are sticking to your routine, or you might find that you need to follow your routine to the maximum. Whatever it takes, if you can achieve that same sense of stability your routine usually provides, that should reduce your stress levels.
The holidays are a challenging time for a lot of us. But if you have some strategies in place to help you see them through, they hopefully will not be as challenging as they otherwise could be. As always, the most important thing is that you take care of yourselves.
Happy holidays, everybody.
[Featured Image: A photo of a person with long blond hair. They are looking to the left. They are wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt. They are holding a knife and a piece of food. Source: Win_Photography]