As the holidays roll around, we’re taking steps to look after our mental health. With a background of prolonged ground and air travel, budgeting for gifts, family dinners, and disrupted routines, we’re investing in strategies for taking care of our heads and our hearts this season. We hope you join us as we head Homebody for the Holidays. 😌
If we’re honest with ourselves, we feel the buzz of stress more often than we relish in the peace and quiet. We notice that the holidays seem to amp up that “buzz” to a rock-concert-level decibel, and it’s easy to feel consumed by it. In order to allow ourselves to fully embrace joy and rest that the holiday season promises, we’re rewiring our minds to view seasonal stress not as an impenetrable wall but rather as a manageable, universally-felt phenomenon.
We’ve teamed up with Alma to equip us with the tools necessary to navigate an often turbulent holiday season.
Alma is a network and community of therapists, currently based in NYC, with a mission to improve the experience of therapy for both providers and clients, and to simplify access to high quality, affordable mental health care. To do this, Alma supports providers via a membership model with everything they need to run a private practice, including beautifully designed spaces for care if they need it. For anyone seeking therapy, Alma supports clients in their search for the right therapist according to individual needs, whether that means cost, area of focus, language, or identity. Simply put, Alma is making space for therapy.
Andrea Lopez-Yianilos is a licensed psychologist who works with adults suffering from sleep problems, trauma, depression, anxiety, occupational stress, and relationship issues. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Lopez-Yianilos is a behavioral health psychologist at Crossover Health and supervises doctoral students at Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI.
Jordana Jacobs is a psychologist who has a particular interest in helping clients with relationship issues, anxiety, depression, crises of meaning, and personal growth. She is deeply focused on working with her patients to both accept their authentic selves and change that which no longer serves them.
Tanya Chesla provides psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and families. Tanya is focused on collaborating with clients to develop achievable strategies that help them live more fulfilled lives. Tanya specializes in working with clients who experience anxiety, depression and relationship issues.
Here’s how they answered our pressing questions about managing stress during the holiday:
Traveling around the holidays is a stress trigger for many. What can I do to better prepare myself for the emotional labor of travel?
Andrea: Traveling around the holidays can be extremely stressful for various reasons - such as a bustling airports, long security lines, traffic, and anticipation of family gatherings. It can be helpful to accept that some of these stressors are part of the reality of traveling this time of year. Acceptance can begin to change your mindset from one of distress to just a part of your journey. It is also helpful to have some of your favorite books, podcasts, and guided meditations on deck to help you relax while you are driving or waiting at the gate. Remember to take deep breaths and acknowledge that everyone else is also trying to get to their destination and is probably stressed too.
Jordana: Travel could be a stressor for you because much of the process is beyond your control, yet you are attempting to take control regardless. Whether your flight is unexpectedly delayed or you’re waiting on a very long line for security that just won’t budge, you’re likely having difficulty surrendering and are becoming exceedingly frustrated. If you want to minimize the emotional labor of travel, I suggest surrendering to that which you cannot control (anything external) and placing your focus on that which is in fact within your control (anything internal). Setting intentions for yourself is a great place to start. For example, internalized goals around travel could include, “I will do my best to surrender to this experience,” or “I plan to try to reflect on the purpose of this travel, which includes connecting with family and friends, rather than the process of travel itself.
Tanya: The most wonderful time of the year can quickly become a major source of stress when travel is involved. Thankfully there are a few helpful strategies that can make life a bit more manageable when navigating travel around the holidays:
- Preparation is key: We tend to become stressed when we feel like we have a lack of control over what’s going on. Therefore staying organized can help us mitigate these feelings. I recommend keeping a packing list and action plan on your phone. Not only will this come in handy for the holidays, but will be beneficial for managing stress around any travel plans.
- Physical activity: This can often fall to the wayside for people during holiday travel. However, keeping your exercise routine is even more important during this time as it helps to alleviate stress and increase our overall sense of happiness and wellbeing. I even encourage people to schedule their workout routines when traveling and to communicate these with family and friends ahead of time. Whenever my husband and I travel, we like to find local workout classes to keep us motivated and on track with our regular routine.
- Reframing: Negative thoughts tend to bring on more negative thoughts. Reframing is a technique that can help us put things in perspective and can create a greater sense of positivity. Instead of thinking “I’m dreading this holiday traffic” or “I can’t believe I’ve got to travel over the holiday”, you can think more like “I’m grateful that I’m in a position to be able to travel over the holiday”. When we think more like the latter it helps us to create a more positive mindset.
You don’t want to aim for surviving the holiday, you want to thrive. Proactively managing your travel plans can help you take advantage of the downtime from work and enjoy the holiday season.
My brain feels so chaotic this time of year. How do I alleviate some of the stress and fogginess the holidays bring?
Andrea: The pressures around the holiday season can take a toll on us physically and mentally. Remember to take time for yourself! Make sure you are not just doing things for others but also for yourself, such as taking a spa day, signing up for an exercise class, or doing a self-care routine at home (think sheet mask, warm bath, puzzles, etc.). Also remember to eat well, moderate your alcohol consumption (if you drink), and get enough sleep. If you have lots of tasks to do, create a to-do list with reasonable completion dates, and be sure to cross items off your list as you complete them. Try not to leave everything for one day, break up goals into smaller tasks you can complete over several days.
Jordana: The holidays are filled with the minutia of running around buying gifts, juggling the pre-vacation chaos at work, and the holiday party frenzy. As such, our world can become hyper-focused on all of the things we have “to do,” i.e. our checklist. When that happens – when we get hung up on doing – we sometimes forget to just be. Thus, one way to alleviate stress is to focus on simply being during the holiday madness. Once you are more present in the moment you can more readily connect with the meaning and purpose of these holidays, including having the time and space to connect, reflect, and celebrate.
Tanya: With so many things to balance, from holiday parties to family commitments, it can be a challenge to mentally organize the activities that have been added to your already busy life. There are many strategies that can help clear your head:
- Oftentimes just writing things down and cataloguing your upcoming commitments can make them clearer in your mind.
- It’s important to check in with yourself during busy times. Simply asking yourself “How am I doing right now?” can be helpful in identifying any stressors that are clouding your thoughts. Be mindful that the holidays can can be particularly challenging for you and others - be gentle on yourself!
- Make sure to maintain adequate sleep, which is vital for our mental wellbeing. Staying well-rested can help us effectively approach holiday challenges with a clear head.
- Reminder, you don’t have to attend every holiday party on your social calendar!
I’m always the one hosting during this season. How can I express to my friends and family that hosting is causing me more stress than joy?
Andrea: This can be a tough one, and the best option is to be honest about how you are feeling emotionally about hosting this season. Tell your friends and family that although you typically enjoy hosting, this year “I’m feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or __ (fill in the blank).” If a friend or family members offers to host, take them up on it! It can be refreshing and just as rewarding to take the back seat for a year (or more)!
Jordana: Perhaps you can try being authentic with your family and friends, including expressing some of your messier or more vulnerable feelings. This could include your frustration around the expectation to host every year, how labor intensive it is to prep for a party, or your anger that no one stays to help clean up. Paradoxically, if you become more comfortable sharing your feelings around hosting — taking off that mask — you may actually find that your desire to host comes back! Hosting can be particularly stressful if we feel the pressure to perform or make a party “perfect.” However, if you throw that concept out the window and show up as authentically you, messy feelings or messy home included, you give your guests permission to do the same and you all may end up connecting on a much deeper level than anticipated.
Tanya: It’s important that the holidays are relaxing for you as well as your guests. A few pointers can help you enjoy the festivities too:
One of the major reasons we get stressed about hosting is the notion that things have to be “perfect”. One way that we can adopt a more zen attitude to hosting is to let go of perfection and try to go with the flow.
Just because you’re hosting does not mean you have to do everything by yourself. It’s likely that your friends and family think you love hosting these gatherings. If these occasions cause you stress, be open and honest in your communication and ask others for help. Have people share some of the responsibilities such as cooking, which can take some of the weight off your shoulders.
Keep things simple - the whole point of gathering is to catch up with one another and share quality time. Your guests will feel most relaxed if you keep things simple and you are not run off your feet.
Consider a no-gift policy to reduce some of the anxiety that comes with trying to find the perfect gift. Many people are moving towards giving donations to charity instead of giving physical gifts.
How do I politely deal with all the STUFF the holidays bring? The clutter stresses me out, but I want people to know I’m grateful.
Andrea: Be polite, and thank those who bring gifts. If you are not particularly keen on the gift, you can donate it or regift it. (PLEASE make sure that if you are regifting, the original “gifter” is not part of the same social circle.) If a friend or family member asks what you want for a holiday gift, be honest and let them know you do not need or want anything this year - you can always suggest an invitation to a dinner, drinks, or coffee as a great gift to share quality time with each other. Lastly, remember to be compassionate with yourself. You do not need to keep every gift for the sake of being “polite.” It is more important to have a pleasant and calming living space than to feel cluttered and uncomfortable in your own space.
Jordana: This is what I like to call an “and also” situation. You can show gratitude for gifts you are given and also get rid of the clutter that does not serve you. These two experiences are not mutually exclusive. Express your gratitude and then let go. Perhaps give the stuff you do not need to someone who could really benefit from a gift and there are many out there who could. That would truly be in the holiday spirit.
Tanya: There’s all sorts of STUFF that happens around the holidays — not all of it physical. Past family drama resurfaces, new relationships are scrutinized, you run into your ex, people ask you about your career (whether it’s where you want it to be or not). Setting boundaries can be a good way of making the holiday with family and friends a bit more manageable:
- It’s okay to set time limits, for example you can say to others that you can attend a gathering in the morning, or between a certain time, and that you won’t be able to stay the whole day.
- Similarly it’s okay to shut down uncomfortable topics by saying something like “I love that you care about me but I’d prefer not to talk about __ right now”. Ultimately it’s about spending time with the ones you love, but it’s also important try to find some solace around the holidays. Don’t shy away from carving out some time for yourself. Practice gratitude for the time you have with loved ones and you’ll be sure to have a more positive mindset over the holidays.
Do you have tips for navigating mental health around the holidays? We’d love to hear them in the comments below! 👇
Illustrated by Sunny Eckerle.