We can often feel pressurized to make the holiday season perfect. Finding the perfect gift, throwing the perfect party, making the perfect meal. All of this can leave us feeling stressed and anxious.
So, with the holidays approaching, how do we make sure that we enjoy our time with family and friends and keep stress and anxiety under control?
Here are some of the things that we do at Hillside to help young people take better care of their mental health during the holiday period:
1. Addressing expectations
Many of the times that we feel stressed or disappointed over the holiday season is due to the expectation we have created. It can be overwhelming to line up all the things that have to be perfect in order for us to enjoy ourselves. Try and think about what is important to you during the holiday. If the holiday is about spending time with your family, put that in the “Priority” box and try to allocate presents, decorations and cooking in the “Nice to have” box which means that they’re nice but if they’re not quite right, the holiday will still be fun.
In last month’s post we talked about comparing ourselves to others versus counting our own blessings. However, sometimes the comparisons are valid. Acknowledging your feelings about not seeing your family at Christmas or coping with loss is important. At Hillside we work with kids on “life worth living” goals where they take joy in simple pleasures, manage emotions by finding things they can participate in and create a happy memory of the holiday to look back on. This can be anything from teaching them how to wrap presents, decorate ornaments or enjoy a Christmas film with a hot chocolate.
One holiday season the kids at Hillside made tissue box holders and donated them to senior citizen homes. They really enjoyed meeting the people in the home and seeing their pleasure at receiving an unexpected gift gave the kids a sense of pride. This act of contributing or giving helped the kids shift their mindset, focusing on developing compassion and also gave them a different perspective on the holiday and a happy memory to enjoy. You can try this with your family by contacting a local animal shelter or hospice near you.
4. Communication Skills:
Spending time with family or having visitors to stay can change our routine over Christmas. If you function best when you go to bed at a certain time, exercise regularly or have some quiet time alone, don’t be afraid to let your family and friends know this. They may also have a routine that helps them to best enjoy the holidays, talking about what you need and finding a compromise to ensure everyone feels comfortable can help avoid conflict and disappointment. Planning ahead can help you to cope ahead.
5. When things don’t go as planned:
It happens. Life is not perfect. So what do we do when something hasn’t gone to plan and we’re hurt and disappointed? Firstly, acknowledge that you’re upset and look at what could make you feel better – a hot bath, listening to music, going for a walk. Once you’re feeling calmer, look at the situation and see if there is something that can be saved. Being flexible and using problem solving skills can help us to find alternatives and still find enjoyment. Burnt the top of the pie? Perhaps you could save the rest and add some icing and still have dessert. Has your good friend cancelled a fun evening because they’re ill, why not pop round with something to make them feel better and watch a movie with them instead.
Elnora Johnson Penn is a therapist at Hillside and consulted with us on the exercises in this post. Sign up to our newsletter and receive more ideas from our therapists on taking care of your mental health. Next month we’ll be sharing how to build self-esteem through accumulating positive emotions.