The holidays are surprisingly stressful for a lot of people—and that’s in a normal year. Holidays + pandemic = a whole new level of stress! Here are some tips for surviving—and thriving—through the holiday season.
Let’s start with why the holiday season isn’t always a time of joy and cheer:
1) Trying to meet everyone’s expectations.
Expectations—from others and yourself—are demands being placed on the moment, with or without your consent. Expectations become standards to live up to, which results in lots of unnecessary pressure.
2) Your self-care goes out the window.
You stay up late, eat unhealthy foods, and run around taking care of a million things all while still juggling your job/family/day-to-day life.
3) Family, finances, and other social dynamics.
Whether it’s too much together time, not enough, or being forced to spend time with people you’d rather not, people make the holidays stressful. And the holidays can be expensive!
4) Reminders of loss and what’s missing.
The holiday season can be a particularly lonely or sad time. The season, with its emphasis on togetherness, gift giving, and celebration, can be a stark reminder of what—or who—is missing.
In addition to all the usual stressors, there are some unique challenges that the pandemic is bringing. For example, social distancing and travel restrictions may mean that holiday traditions go by the wayside, amplifying that sense of loss. Financial strains may also be more apparent.
In the era of Covid, we’re already maxed out, and adding the holiday extras may spell overload for a lot of us. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to get through the next two months relatively unscathed:
1) Get really clear on what’s important to you and why.
What do the holidays mean to you and why do they matter? Connecting with your holiday values is important because they become your compass. When you’re getting stressed out, ask yourself: What really matters to me? Whatever it is, hold on to that and let the extra worry go.
2) Focus on what you can control.
So many people waste time and energy trying to control things they can’t—and not controlling the things they can, like attitude and actions—and the results can be disastrous! Ask yourself: Is this in my circle of control? If it is, do something about it. If not, it’s time to let it go.
Keep in mind that other people’s thoughts and feelings are not in your circle of control. You may be a caring person, but you are not responsible for other people’s reactions. It is 100 percent OK to say no, to set a boundary, or do what is right for you and yours regardless of what others may say. Always come back to what matters to you and what is in your control. Here’s how:
3) Make time for self-care.
Just like your car takes routine maintenance and fuel in order to run, you require self-care. And we don’t necessarily mean the bubble bath Instagram kind. While that can be enjoyable, we mean self-care that keeps you healthy and sane and ensures that you show up as your best. Are you a better you when you’re able to exercise? Meditate? Read? Have a de-cluttered desk? Whatever it is, keep doing it. Sacrificing yourself won’t make this season any easier! If you need better self-care, this mini-course will help.
4) Be a creative problem-solver.
If Covid is interfering with your normal holiday thing like getting together with family, find a creative way to still connect with what’s important. Can you Zoom (yet again)? Send handmade holiday cards? Make your grandmother’s famous cornbread dressing? We’re going to have to be flexible this season and adjust our expectations.
5) Know that it’s OK to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.
Not feeling merry is 100 percent completely OK. There’s a lot of heaviness in the world right now, and it’s OK to feel sad, anxious, or frustrated. Those are natural reactions! Beating yourself up for having certain feelings is only going to make things worse. Instead, practice a little self-compassion by acknowledging the way you feel then saying, “Of course I feel this way! Who wouldn’t in this situation?” That little act of self-kindness can go a long way.
6) Speaking of kindness, do one for someone else.
The holidays are a difficult time for lots of people. If you’re in a position to give to someone else, do it! Even if you can’t give monetarily, find another way to do a kindness. Brightening someone else’s day will pull you out of your head and out of your stress. You’ll both be better off.
—Psychologists April Seifert, PhD and Ashley J. Smith, PhD are co-founders of Peak Mind: The Center for Psychological Strength