The holidays can be an exciting and joyous time for many- filled with family, gift-giving and receiving, and a much awaited break from school and work. Yet for so many people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, the holidays can be a challenging and emotional time of year. As a therapist working with DC and Bethesda families, I know how emotional the holidays can be for my clients, and I have a list of suggestions for you or your loved ones who need extra support over the winter break:
- Predict challenges: Anticipating triggers for mood/anxiety/grief can be very helpful in building self-awareness, increasing sensitivity towards family members, and preventing negative reactions. Think about what might be tough for yourself or your family member: are family gatherings over-stimulating? Will a family tradition be painful after a divorce or the passing of a loved one? Talking about this openly and ahead of time helps process emotion in a healthy way.
- Sandwich the challenges: If you know something will be hard for you or a family member, create an emotional buffer beforehand and/or after. Do a guided meditation online, take a walk, listen to soft music and do some coloring. Try to go into difficult situations as relaxed as possible, and make time for a reward or relaxation afterward to look forward to.
- Take breaks: Making sure to take a timeout if emotions are running high is as important for adults as it is for kids. We aren’t ourselves when we are highly agitated, angry, anxious, or upset. Take a break and step outside, take a few deep breaths, notice the feeling of the ground beneath your feet and check in with each of your five senses, say an affirmation (I can do this, I am okay, I will be okay, etc). Then return to be more present with loved ones. Be sure to allow and encourage this for your children too.
- Structure your time: For kids (and adults) who thrive on having a routine, the holidays can be difficult because it throws off their schedule. And when less is happening, some people get pretty disorganized and dysregulated. Try to keep yourself and your family on somewhat of a schedule: keep bedtime and waking within two hours of normal routine, stick to theee meals a day, schedule some activities and times (doesn’t have to be a lot, just put it on the calendar!) for exercise, homework, and chores.
- Give thanks: This sounds cliché but there is so much research on gratitude contributing to well-being. It can be hard to feel grateful when you are grieving, depressed, or anxious; be patient and compassionate with yourself or your loved one if it is difficult to find feelings joy or gratitude, and start by noticing small things that you can say thank you for.