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Make a plan to reduce holiday stress

Even if we love the holidays, the stress and anxiety created during November and December can unhinge even the most resilient. Many people who are typically content, experience loneliness, disappointment, exhaustion, and self-doubt during this time.

This year will be different for many reasons. But try creating plans and have systems in place to reduce the holiday toll.

We all like to pretend that we have all of our stuff together, but the truth is that none of us entirely do. Let’s be courageous enough to be vulnerable and not drown because we are too proud to ask for help. Take time to become aware of your feelings. Let go of traditions that no longer bring you joy. Create fun traditions. I know a family that has a tradition of tossing the first roll before their holiday meal. The oldest throws a roll to the youngest.

We need each other

Even though you may want to be alone, avoid social isolation. We are literally, physiologically created for connection. Our limbic systems, mirror neurons, and ability to learn socially are all wired to help us connect. To heal, we must do so in a social environment. We need other people in our lives so this holiday season, plan to spend time with those that love and support you. And you may want to plan to spend less time with those that drain your energy or make you feel unworthy.

Identify or create your community

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The holidays are the perfect time to reach out to friends. Once we find our tribe that we can be open, vulnerable, and accepted, our burdens don’t disappear, but they are diminished. Make plans for fun activities. Think of something new or different from what you usually do.

If this is a difficult time for you, let others know so that they can be there for you. You never know; they may be facing some of the same challenges.

Volunteering is another great option for social engagement. When we help others, we feel happier. Doing for others can give us a sense of worth, pride, and accomplishment. When we volunteer, we move away from our circumstances and often have a change in perspective. Did you know that focusing on others can help alleviate depression?

Engage in self-care

Self-care can be as simple as learning to say no or asking for help. Figure out what you need to get through the holidays. Reduce your commitments. Identify what matters most to you and prioritize. When you know what you and your loved one’s value, it makes it easier to let some things slide.

Plan to eat healthily, get enough sleep and exercise. Each of those helps us to be more resilient and improves our mood. Long walks during daylight hours or exposure to a lightbox for about 30 minutes a day can also be a big help.

Be present! Take a vacation from technology. Fully engage with the people around you. Focus on what is good at the moment.

If you typically feel let down during or after the holidays, identify why. Set realistic expectations to help avoid disappointment. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others. We may look at social media posts and think that others are far better off. The truth is it is not always what it seems.

Preparing for emotions

Time with family or missing family members can trigger a wide range of emotions, including grief. Did you know that grief can change our neurochemistry by lowering our serotonin level, leaving us with the sense that things are not “ok” and the feeling that they may never be? The good news is that healthy choices over time help reawaken the life in us as our brains and bodies heal. Allow yourself to grieve – whatever emotion you are feeling. If your feelings are impacting your ability to thrive, consider working with a mental health professional.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.

About the Author

Steve M. Grant was born in New York City and raised in Paramus, NJ. He attended Furman University on a partial baseball scholarship and served as baseball captain his junior and senior years. After college, he started the Catholic High School Baseball Team at St. Joseph’s High in 1994 and volunteered as head coach there for 12 years.

In March of 2012, Grant founded the Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Foundation and serves as its Executive Director. He has written a book about the loss of his two sons to accidental overdose and his journey from grief to gratitude. It is titled Don’t Forget Me and will publish in February 2020.

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