How to Cope With These Common Holiday Triggers

It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” so why are there so many holiday triggers? It’s the time of the year when families come together, gifts and food are abundant, and memories are made, but it’s also a time when it’s dark by 5 p.m., the weather is freezing, and Taylor Swift just dropped an album that make you want to cry, not to mention that this time of year can actually bring up a lot of painful feelings, anxiety, and stress. Whether your stress starts at Thanksgiving or you’re hit with the post-holiday sadness after New Year’s Day, read on for expert tips on how to cope and get through the season enjoyably.

 

If you’re feeling pressure or exhaustion thinking about the season…

You are probably expecting way too much. “The holidays are so stressful because there are a lot of ‘shoulds’ placed around them,” explained Chloe Ballatore, a relationship and communications expert and author. “Holidays have rituals, or repetitive activities, so really think through if doing these activities are serving your own best interests.” With the holidays approaching, identify where you think you “should” do something and if you’re doing it for any other reason than it makes you happy or you want to do it. Respect your own happiness over expectations and try not to do anything because you feel like you “should” do them. 

 

If you have a negative relationship with food… 

Whether it’s Friendsgiving, gift exchanges, Hanukkah, or Christmas dinner, holiday gatherings often revolve around food. For those with any kind of negative relationship with food or even a medically restrictive diet, the focus on food can be triggering. Tayler Silfverduk, a registered dietician who specializes in celiac disease and disordered eating, advised to be aware of food pushers, which are people who do not take “no” for an answer when offering food (even if it’s a well-intentioned aunt or grandparent), which can be highly triggering. If you need to, remind your family that your body and eating habits aren’t up for discussion. Overall, eat mindfully, have a game plan if you know you’ll have limited food options (like bringing a hearty side dish to eat for your main course if you don’t eat turkey), and consistently remind yourself that nourishment should be pleasurable—stress about food is worse for your body than any Christmas cookie or cup of eggnog. 

 

 

If family get-togethers are triggering…

Maybe you don’t get along with certain family members or maybe your family events can just be draining. Maybe you have family members who do not agree with your political or core beliefs, argue through every get-together, or make you feel stressed/pressured. Missy McCrickard, an energy healer, breathwork facilitator, and wellbeing coach, suggested setting boundaries with your family members or removing yourself from the situation altogether. It’s OK to say “No thank you” or “I can’t engage in this conversation.” When setting boundaries, let your family know the boundaries beforehand so they know what will or will not happen when you are together. You can also let them know you will remove yourself from the situation if you do not feel respected or comfortable. You cannot control anyone but yourself, so setting what your personal boundaries and reactions will look like is crucial for navigating tricky family dynamics.

 

If you feel lonely during the holidays…

Whether this time of year reminds you of family members who are no longer in our lives, you feel sad not seeing family this year, or the season is a reminder that you don’t have the relationship or family you want, the holidays can feel lonely. Dr. Rebecca Leslie, a psychologist and owner of Best Within You Therapy & Wellness, said that connecting in whatever way feels fulfilling to you is the most important thing to do when you’re feeling lonely. Set up friendsgivings, gift exchanges, or get-togethers (even if they’re virtual) with people who make you feel loved and supported. “If you’re feeling alone, know that you are not alone in feeling that way,” Dr. Leslie said. “Try to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.” Talk to yourself as you would your best friend or little sister, spend time with your favorite hobbies, books, people, and movies, and say ‘no’ to anything that doesn’t make you happier. Practicing self-compassion and fostering connection can help ease loneliness.

 

If you’re sober during the holidays…

If you find that many holiday traditions rooted in a partying or drinking environment feel triggering to your sobriety in any way, set boundaries and seek support. Beth Bowen LMSW, a coach for alcohol-free and sober-curious women, suggested managing your physical, mental, and emotional energy by making sure you are getting extra sleep, turning down invitations to events you don’t want to attend, fueling your body with nutritious food, and exercising regularly. These practices can help you feel grounded so you can make choices that help your body feel best. If you feel uncomfortable being sober in an alcohol-focused environment, bring your own non-alcoholic beverage or perfect your non-alcoholic order so you can have something tasty and celebratory. This can be a mocktail, non-alcoholic beer/wine, or something like sparkling water. 

 

 

If you are financially stressed during the holidays…

While this season should be more about spending time with loved ones than spending money, we often like to show our love with gifts come the holiday season. Beyond our shopping list, we spend money on new outfits, food and drinks to bring to parties, travel expenses, etc., which can all really add up. “First and foremost, remember you are not alone,” said Sara Kuburic, a holiday triggerspsychotherapist, consultant, writer, and columnist. “Stick to your budget, be honest with people you are spending time with, and find traditions that are more affordable or free.”

Good news: Gifting doesn’t have to break the bank. Homemade gifts like jewelry, candles, or art can help erase some of the expenses and can even be more personal and thoughtful than a store-bought gift. Lastly, while it can be a bummer to say “no,” try setting boundaries around foregoing gift exchanges or events that cause you more financial stress than enjoyment. Instead, make plans with loved ones for activities that won’t cost a lot of money (and stress): a virtual catch-up, movie night at home, walking around the neighborhood to look at the lights, or a potluck and BYOB dinner (so you’re not in charge of providing all the food and drinks). 

 

And no matter what you feel triggered by…

Practicing consistent self-care is crucial all year long but especially during extra stressful or triggering times like this season. “Make a schedule every day so you can plan ahead and schedule in ways to care for yourself,” suggested Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a celebrity psychologist, keynote speaker, and author. “Determine which days will be particularly demanding and plan self-care activities before, during, or after those days.” Also, when you feel triggered in the moment, have a game plan. Try grounding yourself by taking 10 deep breaths from your belly, journaling, venting to a trusted loved one, or any other coping skills you have in your toolbox. Lastly, you should not be triggered, struggling, or coping alone. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist.

 

Anxiety, toxic family relationships, and depression can feel isolating, but you shouldn’t have to feel as though you’re going through it alone. Please reach out to your doctor, a therapist, or another trusted professional for support.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Crisis Textline: text CONNECT to 741741

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or with disordered thoughts or behaviors regarding food and eating, please seek help. Call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for support, reach out to a qualified medical professional, or, for a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.

 

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