For some of us the holidays mean decorating, sharing meals with family and friends and feeling totally stressed out. If that sounds like you, take heart. According to Joseph Noecker, licensed psychotherapist and mental health counselor, life coach and founder of the Center for Self Balance in Winter Park, holiday stress can be calmed in many ways but first it may be helpful to reframe the idea of stress.
What is stress? For many Americans it is both a motivator to achieve things and something that keeps us up at night. The American Psychological Association says Americans are more stressed than ever. Even before the pandemic a whopping 44% reported that their stress levels had increased over the last five years.
Noecker says in most cases stress or what he calls an emotional imbalance is an internal negative response to external circumstances. He suggests working from the inside out to help relieve emotional imbalances during the holiday season.
Keep it simple and try doing some 3-1-4 breathing. Here’s how you do it: breathe in deeply for a count of three, hold it for a count of one, and breathe out for a count of four. This technique will engage your parasympathetic system which controls your rest and digest state. The sympathetic system deals with the fight or flight state which is where your stress response resides. When you breathe slowly and deeply, you can help switch from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic system helping to calm your mind and body.
Many of us like to predict the future or replay the past during the holidays. To help limit the anguish both practices can produce, it’s a good idea to take an active role in being in the present.
You can silently say to yourself what you are doing while you are doing it to hold your attention and stay in each moment. For example, you can silently narrate how to wrap a gift while you are wrapping it. This is just one of many ways to keep your mind where your feet are.
Attitude of Gratitude
Whether it’s Christmas, Hannukah or Diwali, the holidays for many religious traditions are often about celebrating our good fortune. Making gratitude a focus this holiday season is a great way to help curb stress or any potential emotional turmoil.
What Do I Really Need?
If you are a worrier and often think about how things will not work out, try distilling those thoughts to find out what you’re really upset about.
Noecker recommends asking yourself: What do I need to hear? Then say it to yourself. If you are overwhelmed, ask for help. This inner self-care is an important way to reduce stress and support your emotional health.
Outer self-care is useful too. Make sure you are getting enough rest. That means sleeping eight hours a night and resting your emotions too. If you often over-indulge in food or drink, make a plan that feels appropriate to serve both your physical and emotional health.