After living through months of isolation in the midst of a pandemic and stress of the societal tension, many hope for a peaceful holiday season, however different it may look. As I type these words, snow falls here in Knoxville, symbolizing a glimpse of hope and renewal. Even still, many people deal with family issues, grief, and seasonal depression during the winter holiday season.
If you struggle with anxiety and depression, emotional episodes typically heighten during the holidays. Here are a few way to regulate your emotions that hold true even during a season like 2020.
Know your triggers and be prepared to regulate your thoughts and emotions.
Certain people, memories, or traditions can connote negative emotions during the holidays. These emotions are ignited by triggers, which typically happen through the senses; sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Is there a Christmas song that reminds you of a beloved family member who has passed away? A smell that brings up past abuse? Driving back to a town or a home past the sight of many moments that cause grief or memories of pain? Recognize these things as potential triggers for emotional reaction and practice breathing, gratitude, smiling, laughing, and other grounding techniques to regulate them.
Thoughts may surface as well. They are created by memories, regrets, people who may trigger you, and the like. Develop positive scripts or one liners to use to help set boundaries when engaging volatile personalities. Work at regulating your defensiveness when they attack. Don’t take their attacks personal even if they are intentionally making it personal.
Restructure the “shoulds” and “should haves” that surface in your thinking. “She should know better!” “He should help with the decorations!” “I shouldn’t have talked to them that way last year.” You can’t control others anymore than you can undo what you did last year. So don’t should your pants!
Focus on the positive.
It can be hard in the midst of anxiety and depression. However, it is critical to look for the positive things that aren’t triggers for you during the holidays; the warmth of a hot cocoa, the smell of cinnamon, the taste of Christmas foods, the sounds of Christmas bells and music, puppies under mistletoe, and the like.
If they aren’t triggers for you, write them down or list them on your phone. Focus on how they make you feel good and warm on the inside. Positive things can exist during the holidays, even in the anxious and depressive moments. So look for them. Grant those things you take for granted.
Understand no family is perfect.
The old joke says, “If you can’t identify the crazy person in your family, it might be you!”
Inevitably, you will be forced to spend time with that person, especially if it is you. Plan ahead for how you will respond to the triggers they ignite in you. Write scripts to help you respond in a non-aggressive way. Be assertive in setting boundaries, but always be kind.
Set realistic expectations.
Idealists struggle when ideals are not met, which is always. Strive for perfection. Be satisfied with excellence! For others, imagine the worst that can happen in a situation. Now imagine the best. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Again focus on the positive and restructure “the shoulds.”
Regulate your diet, exercise, and sleep.
Watch your sugar, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Its okay to enjoy them, but too much deregulate the chemicals in your brain, intensifying emotions and triggers. Enjoy! But do so in moderation, which is hard because so much becomes available to you over a long period of time. Select days, parties, and events that you will enjoy these foods and drinks. Choose them based on what you know will be available at each. Enjoy them only on those particular times as opposed to every time.
The same concepts apply to sleep. If you have several days off, sleep well but not too much. Take a nap if you want, but not all afternoon or several times over the break. It can throw off your balance and make it more difficult to regulate your triggers.
Exercise can be a great way to provide the balance of chemicals your brain and body need to help you regulate emotions. So walk each day or get to the gym. Play with the children. Be creative! Get off the couch and move!
Focus on your reason to celebrate, most often around faith.
These days are intended to be holy and honor Holy Other. They are intended to bring glimpses of hope, joy, and peace. Likewise, they provide the impetus and inspiration for us to provide moments and acts of hope and peace to those around us.
Turning yourself outward is a gift to others and a gift to you. So take time to serve, give, and love others. Provide hope and peace to those who have none. Maybe even those mean or annoying relatives.