6 Ways To Look After Yourself During This Holiday Period

6 steps looking after self during christmas and holidays.jpg

Trust me. If you are dreading the holidays because you are worried that the age old family pains will pop up, you are not alone.

I speak to people every day who think they should be “over it” by now. People who feel they should be able to be with family and immune to the situations that cause the feelings of inadequacy and overwhelm that was present when they were young.

If this is you, you are not alone. So many of us feel this. For years I thought there was stuff I should be over as an adult and then wham, it would hit me out of the blue. Suddenly, I was right back there, feeling like a child, standing as if frozen in headlights, overwhelmed and unsure how to act. So, what should you do if you feel like this? How can you prepare yourself for the imminent holiday period? Here are 6 steps you can try…

1. Forgive yourself

If old wounds are suddenly exposed it is common for us to beat ourselves up. It is common for us to should ourselves and undermine our experiences by saying things like: “I should be over this by now, why aren’t I”. These thoughts are automatic, we often don’t even realise we are having them. The problem is, thoughts like these only further our distress and makes us less likely to be able to regain our centre and move forward. (Read this blog for more information about the effects of “should”-ing yourself and this one for more information about the impact of self criticism.)

The first step is therefore to learn to forgive yourself any time an old (or new) pain arises. To do this, you could practice phrases such as “I am learning that I still carry hurt with me around this experience. I am learning that it is ok to feel these things. I am learning that I can forgive myself for feeling these emotions”.

You could also learn to find a new compassionate voice inside yourself that you can turn to. This will help soothe you and dampen some of the emotional distress you feel. Read this blog for 3 ways to increase self compassion and try these audios.

2. Prepare

If you know that there are going to be specific instances this Christmas that open up old wounds or cause old patterns to emerge, prepare yourself. List the people and the conversations that may cause the feelings of overwhelm, the incidences that trigger age old wounds for you. Decide what you will do when they arise. Decide if you can and need to avoid some of those events.

If you know there are specific conversations that will occur that cause distress practice some stock phrases that you can use on the day. These could include: “I would rather not talk about that” for example. Or could include stock phrases around how you will respond to the racist, sexist remarks of others or any other topic that may come up.

Remember that your brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imaginary events, so practice saying your stock phrases over and over when you are alone and calm. The more you practice, the more easily available those phrases will be for you when the panic, grief or other emotion starts to ensue.

3. Create a space that you can retreat to and practice some self soothing exercises

This space can be metaphorical or an actual room or place.

If it is an actual place make sure you have soothing objects there. Think about all your senses. Place things you can touch, smell, squeeze, look at, think about in that space. For example, you could have a box somewhere in that place that contains lavender oil to smell, a soft blanket to wrap around you, pictures of a holiday and friends you love, a crossword/sudoku/word search to get you out of your head and into the moment.

If you don’t have a specific place, don’t be afraid to hide in your bathroom for a moment to take a breath - this is something I do a lot and will probably do until the day I die. I do not feel ashamed about it. I often need space to regroup as I am a social introvert and lose energy fast!

Also, the next step can be used to create a safe space you can turn to within, the breath…

4. Learn a breathing exercise, a grounding technique and decide on an act of kindness you can show yourself

Equip yourself with breathing exercises and grounding techniques to use in a quiet space (click on the words for more information about each skill). You could download these to your phone and then stuff your headphones in your ears when you have a moment and use this to get back to centre. The more you practice the exercises during times of calm the more effective they will be during times of distress. So practice, practice, practice!

You could also decide on a small act of self compassion that you could use even if you are in public. For example, you could place one hand over the other and gently stroke your palm or you could give yourself a gentle hug and repeat to yourself some compassionate phrases. See this article for more ideas on this.

4. Connect to the people that make you feel safe, sane and grounded

In advance of the holidays share your fears and worries with the people you care about. It may be best to do this with friends, people who are not the ones you worry about seeing. Agree to check in on each other while you are at home. Agree that you will send each other updates and support.

It is likely the people you share with will be feeling similar, so don’t be afraid to lean on each other.

5. Exercise, cry, release

I put this in here as a mix of ideas for ways that you can release some of the emotions inside. Crying releases ACTH, a stress hormone and produces endorphins, a feel good hormone. Therefore don’t be afraid to do this.

Exercise not only gives you a reason to escape the house. It also breaks down the stress hormone cortisol and boosts endorphins. Win. See this article for a 5 minute exercise idea you can do in your toilet!

Find other ways to release how you feel. Screaming into a pillow is not a bad release strategy. Better that the overwhelming sensation is shouted into a pillow and out of you than you carry it around and either turn it on yourself or let it out at a time that is totally unrelated (this happens all the time, have you noticed this?).

If you can meditate, this is also a GREAT thing to do. However, don’t worry if this isn’t for you at present.

6. Remember it will be over soon

The holidays are intense but short. For those who love them they are too short. For those who feel overwhelmed by what they mean they feel never ending. Keep in mind that in a few days they will be the New Year and this will be a memory.

That’s it

This is a brief summary of some of the strategies you can employ. Have a read and think about how you can bring a little of each step into your day. Think about what would work for you in terms of each of these themes.

For people who really struggle and feel like they really can’t cope, consider seeking professional support as well as the support of people around you. This is a time to seek connection if you can and to find ways to be kind to yourself and support yourself. Remember, you are not alone.

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I am a Clinical Psychologist trying to get effective psychological advice out of the therapy room and into everyday life. Please share this article if you found it useful, or think it will benefit someone you know.

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Dr Soph