Giving the Gift of Self-care: How to Replace Holiday Triggers With Tenderness
The holidays can be a time of joy, celebration, and reconnection, but our high expectations for this season can sometimes send us into scary spirals of doubt and depression. Reducing stress during the holidays means spending time taking care of yourself, and working to avoid and, ideally, heal those situations, memories, and emotions that can trigger feelings of psychological unease.
Healing Harmful Patterns
In my work as a counselor, I focus on building grounding strategies to reduce the negative emotions and behaviors that arise when someone gets stuck in a repeating rut of negative thoughts. This unending “loop” of painful memories, thoughts, or emotions is often referred to as “repetition compulsion.” Our brains are hardwired to move past short term problems and integrate their lessons into our long term problem solving schema, which means this tendency can actually be quite beneficial. The problem occurs, however, when people experience extreme distress by reliving these stressful feelings, rendering them unable to move forward and heal.
The holidays often spur this sort of stressful repetitive thinking. Seeing family and friends from can bring up old wounds, as can being in your childhood home. Once you notice that you’ve got a stressful loop going, you can use the following grounding techniques to relieve your distress:
- Focus on Your Body. Tuning in to your breath and your body can help calm your body’s response to the perceived feeling of danger. Find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes, then slowly scan through your body from your toes to the tip of your head, breathing evenly and picturing each set of muscles relaxing.
- Use Your “Container.” A powerful grounding technique that gets stronger the more you use it, the “container” is a visualization technique in which you imagine a strong box, room, safe, or any other sturdy container with a door or lid. Practice mentally placing your concerns into this container when you feel overwhelmed. The goal is not to make them disappear, but rather hold them there so you can safely process them in therapy or another safe environment after the stressful holidays have passed.
- Practice Self-Care. When you feel yourself getting caught in a stressful loop, it can be enormously helpful to have a working list of self-care activities that you know feel good and calm you down. Self-care varies from person to person, but try out some of the following until you find the right fit: walking, journaling, drawing or painting, taking a warm bath, listening to music, cooking a nutritious meal, spending time with a trusted friend, volunteering for people in need, taking a cat nap, watching a movie, going to an exercise class…the list can be as long as Santa’s; you deserve it!
Building Resiliency After Loss
Finally, it’s important to note that the holidays can be particularly stressful if you’ve recently lost a loved one through death or divorce. Gathering together to celebrate might not feel like the right thing to do, and be sure to allow yourself time to grieve alone or with friends and family. Honoring the truth of your experience can go a long way towards healing and stronger psychological health, during the holidays and for the rest of your life.
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