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Coping During the Holidays

Feeling like a Grinch? Here are some ways to make the holidays easier. 

The holidays are just around the corner, and while they often can be a time of joy and celebration, for many people, there can be sour notes among all that cheer. 

“Some struggle with family dynamics and overwhelming stress during this time,” says Christina Urcinas, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist at Inova Behavioral Health Services. “Grief and loneliness can also play a role because the holidays can remind us of loved ones who are no longer with us. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, and understand how to navigate them.”

If you tend to dread the holidays, here are some suggestions for making the time ahead less difficult. 

Accept Your Feelings
It may feel like you have to push back against feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety because you “shouldn’t feel that way” during the holidays. However, this can actually exacerbate the situation. Once you recognize the feelings, it’s much easier to find coping strategies, and sometimes just expressing those emotions can be a relief.

Schedule Time for Yourself
Like many people, you may be trying to go in a hundred different directions when it comes to shopping, cooking, attending parties and handling travel arrangements. That could turn into stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, which can actually impact your immune system and leave you feeling fatigued. 

Take a moment to figure out what helps you recharge, such as taking time every evening to write down your thoughts in a journal, attending a yoga class once or twice a week or being consistent with an exercise routine. Then put that on your schedule, written in pen, and consider it an unbreakable commitment.

Learn to Say No
Maybe you visit a certain relative’s house every year and leave feeling sad or less in the holiday spirit. Maybe too many to-dos are pulling you away from your meaning of celebration. In situations like these, learn the fine art of saying, “No.” 

This may be the year to skip a stressful family gathering, or at least plan to stay for a shorter length of time. You can let family members know in advance that you won’t be doing as much this year. Most of all, stick to your “no” and make yourself more of a priority.

How to Counteract Negative Chatter
Even the calmest and peaceful individuals can get riled up among family members intent on pushing buttons. People then tend to fall back into old patterns and grudges, and often, it takes a new approach to step away from these situations.

Similar to saying “no” when you feel like it, choose to leave conversations that feel like triggers. If what’s being said makes you feel defensive and combative, literally walk away. Sometimes, just taking a walk around the block can defuse the situation. And while you are on that walk, take some time to talk to yourself in a positive and helpful manner. Most of all, this space may begin to create an understanding among family members that you won’t participate in old patterns and negative conversations.

Limit the Indulgences
For many people, the holidays are a time to let loose and eat sugary treats, drink holiday cocktails and run on a few hours of sleep a night. While those might have their place in the very short term, it doesn’t take long for those indulgences to start impacting your health. Alcohol, in particular, can become problematic, especially if you’re feeling down or conflicted about family time. A better strategy would be to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to balance your approach to celebrating the holidays.

Reach Out
Would a fresh perspective be helpful? Despite all the festive décor around you, remember that it’s okay not to like the holidays if they feel challenging for you. Just focus on more self-care, and if you feel like you need to speak with a professional, Inova has extensive mental health and substance use services across Northern Virginia. 

Another good strategy is to schedule time with a close friend, where you can both “vent” for a bit about what you’re going through. 

“Many times, just feeling heard can go a long way toward making you feel better,” says Urcinas. “You might be surprised that they feel the same way.”

Click here to learn more about Inova Behavioral Health or find a mental health professional near you.

Alcohol-Free Celebration Tips

Whether you’re sober or you just want to limit your alcohol consumption during the holidays, there are plenty of ways to have fun without drinking. Start with these:

  • Make a “mocktail” bar with plenty of delicious nonalcoholic ingredients.
  • Pick an activity for a holiday party, like dancing, indoor rock climbing or snowshoeing.
  • Get classic by putting together a group to go caroling around the neighborhood.
  • Organize a scavenger hunt everyone can play, maybe focusing on taking photos of various kinds of holiday decorations in the neighborhood.
  • Host a game night or movie night and have plenty of nonalcoholic options on hand.

Inova Behavioral Health offers a full spectrum of mental health and substance use inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and adults to the surrounding Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., metropolitan community. Learn more about our programs and services

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