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Holiday Gatherings = Stress? Try These Strategies!

Nov 22, 2021

Thanksgiving is just days away, which means we have entered the holiday season.  Whether you are gathering with family in-person or via Zoom this year, there are bound to be a mix of emotions.  The voices in your head might sound something like this...

  • "Oh I love being back with my family.  I've missed them so much!"
  • "What is happening to me?  I'm sweating, my thoughts are flustered, and I don't know what to do with myself."
  • "I don't feel like anyone hears me or sees me for who I am.  I just want to cry or scream or do both."
  • "All I want to do is go home, lay on my couch, and watch Netflix!  I can't do this anymore, I can't be with these people anymore. I'm so done being here."

Oh boy...exciting stuff ahead! 

Family gatherings bring up lots of stuff because they highlight unhealed wounds, unresolved issues, painful memories, and expectations.  Family dynamics and the holidays can just be plain stressful. 

That's why I'm writing you today.  I want you to have some tools in hand so you are ready to jump into self-care action when the tears, rage or overwhelm are rising to the surface.  

But first, I want you to know something.  If gathering with family brings up stuff for you, just know you are not alone.  I'm right there with you as are millions of other people.  There's a whole lot of research that shows that most people experience high levels of stress during the holidays and family gatherings and this time of year can be a significant trigger for depression and anxiety.

Here are a few self-care strategies to help you cope during holiday gatherings:

Know What Triggers You:

Thinking about what makes family gatherings difficult will help you identify trigger thoughts that increase stress, anxiety, and anger (think: people, smells, tone of voice). Knowing your triggers will give you a chance to feel differently about them and make a plan for how to cope with them when they occur. One way to manage triggers is by calming yourself with a deep breath. Deep breathing sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. When needed, give yourself permission to leave the situation, find a quiet place to breathe for as long as needed, and return when you’re feeling restored and calm.

Remember What You Can and Cannot Control:

The reality is that you cannot control what everyone will say or do. You can only stay in charge of yourself.  Here's what you have control over: your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Here's what you have no control over:  the weather, your mother’s drinking, or your brother’s snide comments.  Focus on what you have control over and enjoy the freedom of not being responsible for what others do and how they feel.

Other Tips:

  • Slip away to the bathroom or an empty room to take 3 deep breaths and reconnect with your body.  
  • Volunteer to take the dog for a walk to get some fresh air and alone time.
  • Recite a mantra (I have control over how I feel and I choose to feel at peace, I open my heart and accept others as they are, I have nothing but love to give)
  • Say no (set clear boundaries around food, alcohol, space and time).
  • Commit to self-compassion, over and over again.  

I hope these strategies make this year's family gatherings more doable and enjoyable.  Sending you a big hug and a whole ton of love!



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