A Holiday Survival Guide

Holiday season is here. A stroll down Maine Street means a bombardment of twinkle lights, bustling shoppers, and wafting pumpkin spice. But for many, “the most wonderful time of the year” is not exactly that. The shorter, colder days make it more difficult to get out for exercise or motivate for social visits and the significance of the holidays can bring up a melancholy from loved ones who are no longer a part of our lives. Now, perhaps more than any time of the year, is an important time for self-care to get through the holidays and lay a solid base for the rest of the winter to come. 

Luckily, there are many steps we can take to help reduce our vulnerability to distress this time of year. The first is to go back to basics with taking care of your body. You may be aware from your own experiences that problems in the body often cause distress on their own or make it harder to cope when difficult issues arise. I use the acronym “PLEASE”, from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), to remember to:

·       treat Physical Illness,

·       balance Eating,

·       avoid excessive mood-Altering substances,

·       balance Sleep,

·       and get Exercise

These may seem basic, but in the rush of the holiday build up it can be easy to forget to or make time for eating regular meals (leading to reaching for unhealthy snacks to satisfy hunger), keeping up with an exercise routine, or getting sufficient sleep. Furthermore, holiday gatherings can disrupt your usual eating or alcohol use habits, and general self-care like getting medical attention for the first winter colds of the season can fall off your priority list. Now is the time to reset these routines to support yourself physically, which is important to building overall emotional health. Take the time to think about the routines that are most important for your mental health and make the commitment to yourself to put them in place this winter.

You can also focus on engaging in enjoyable activities that bring more positive emotions into your life. Consider doing at least one thing every day, even for a few minutes, that is purely for enjoyment. This could be as simple as making yourself a nice, warm beverage or spending a few minutes snuggling with your pet. Whatever you choose, focus your attention on that activity for the duration of the time you are doing it, allowing yourself to soak up the benefits of this pleasant time. Reflecting on your day or planning for the next task can wait until after your pleasant activity is over.

Holidays can also be a difficult time for relationships. Family events can be fun and rewarding for some, while full of tension or disappointment for others. In either case, pick your battles and consider using “radical acceptance” to acknowledge when certain situations can’t be changed, and trying to do so may cause more headache than it’s worth. Reinforce others with gratitude or caring for the good times you have and be gentle with yourself when things don’t go as well as you would like. Consider holding separate holiday celebrations with friends for a lower-key version of big family events. And be honest with yourself about how much you can do – choose your celebrations wisely and balance them with time to recover on your own.

So as we wind down 2018 and look into 2019, remember to take some time to ask yourself whether you can change a few things to make it through this holiday season – and the upcoming new year – with more ease.

Kate White, Ph.D.