5 Ways to Manage Stress When You’re Home for the Holidays

Commonly thought of as a joyful time of year, the holiday season is full of many wonderful events. Parties, exchanging gifts, decorating, baking, and other activities fill our calendars throughout the season. Returning home to visit family and friends is a common holiday activity that has become routine for many. Although visiting with family can bring cherished and happy moments, it can also be a source of stress.black and white photo of pensive man
If you typically face stressful situations when visiting family over the holidays, there are steps you can take to create the most positive experience possible. As you get ready for your holiday visit, review these tips to help keep calm for the duration of your stay:

Utilize Deep Breathing Exercises

In moments of intense stress, deep breathing is an exceptional way to hit the “pause button” on your body’s response to the situation. Using a breathing exercise when you are in the middle of a stressful situation will help reduce tension and ease anxiety within minutes.

Exercise Regularly

Not only is regular exercise wonderful for your physical health, but it is also essential in keeping your mind relaxed. Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and increase levels of endorphins in your body, which helps boost your mood (Mayo Clinic).

Avoid Discussing Controversial Subjects

Nothing can be more stressful at the dinner table (or anywhere else, for that matter) than being forced to participate in a conversation that deals with a controversial subject. Although you cannot control what subjects others bring up, you can control the conversation you introduce. Stay away from subjects that can stir up heated discussions among your family members. Keep conversations as friendly and positive as possible.

Let Go of Perfectionist Tendencies

Being a perfectionist during the holidays can create highly stressful situations. No matter how well you have planned your holiday gathering, things can (and do) go wrong. A side dish may end up being overcooked, you might forget to pack your holiday attire, or any other number of things could make your visit less-than-perfect. By learning to accept the occasional bumps, you will feel a lot more relaxed during your stay.

Plan a Relaxing Activity Each Day

The holidays can often become a flurry of activities, especially when going back home to stay with relatives. Between the cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, and everything in between, you may not have a spare moment to decompress from it all. To help preserve your health and stress levels, plan something relaxing for each day of your visit. Take at least 30 minutes each day to engage in a favorite activity that will help you wind down. Read a book, take a warm bubble bath, do yoga, or anything else you consider to be relaxing.

Therapy in Color

An increasing number of adults are handling stress by engaging with art. Specifically, art in the form of coloring books. But while some may consider this to be a temporary fad, the psychology behind it is much deeper. Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Jordan Gaines Lewis explains the appeal of coloring books to adults, and why they work, in a piece for New York Magazine’s The Science of Us blog.

Creative engagement is a major stress-reliever for many people. If you are artistically inclined, whether it be in the visual arts, music, or literature, you already know this. However, just because one lacks artistic training doesn’t mean that this great feeling can’t be experienced. So many adults are spending time with an open coloring books because it allows us to exercise our creative muscle, as long as we can hold a coloring pencil. Lewis cites psychologist Barry Kaufman, who says that the act of completing something is rewarding and satisfying.

Studies also show that there are health benefits to incorporating some degree of creativity into your lifestyle. Those that engage creatively, one Yale Researcher finds, may be able to distract themselves from chronic pain. Colorers were also released earlier from hospitals, as their creative activities took their mind off of the immediately stressful surroundings.

Is coloring a productive way to relieve stress?
Is coloring a productive way to relieve stress?

Lewis also suggests that coloring books work wonders for adults’ mental health because of the relatively minor decisions involved. When we’re tasked with making major decisions at work and in our relationships, we can begin to suffer from decision-fatigue, which can wear on our decision-making abilities. When coloring, the simple decision of which color goes where is a welcome change. It’s like giving your mind a walk!

For those who argue that coloring isn’t worth it because it isn’t a productive activity, Lewis points a study that reveals some of the benefits of the intrinsic value of engaging with our artistic side.

Whether or not coloring books fade out is one thing. But for now, they’re here to stay. Maybe a drawing and a set of pencils is just what one of your clients may need for the time being.

Counseling: It Has Benefits

Many people wonder if counseling is for them. The fact of the matter is that it’s not for any one set of people in particular. Tracy Riley LCSW shares several reasons why therapy is beneficial for all. I’m personally involved with child and adolescent therapy, family counseling, and adult therapy, so we’ll stick to that in this post. But Tracey writes about the merits of anger management and phone counseling, which is certainly worth reading about.
Child and Adolescent Therapy: It’s not easy being a kid. External pressures from parents, school, and peers can contribute to anxiety. Many young children may feel a certain way and have honestly no idea why. It makes sense, especially when you consider that they are still getting to know their minds and bodies. Other times, they may feel shut-out of the conversation, and dismissed by adults and authority figures. But kids, and especially teens, have their own opinions. And while they may not always be super-refined, at the end of the day they are learning  how to interpret the world around them, and so it is important not to ignore their input. By attending therapy sessions, children and teens can learn to articulate these complex feelings, resolve problems, and practice healthy coping techniques. At the end of the day, a child needs to be able to believe in themselves. Life can be difficult, and it is hugely important to learn that they needn’t go it alone.
Family and Marriage Counseling: Every couple and family will have its problems. The game-changer, though, is how well those problems can be dealt with. Trying to power through them without giving appropriate thought to the source of the issues will often exacerbate them. However, with the proper setting, many problems can be adequately addressed and resolved. There are a variety of family counseling techniques that you can learn about on my family counseling blog.

The Beauty of Communication

In the Psychiatric Times, Dr. Stephen B. Levine wrote a beautiful piece that captures the complexities and nuances of the place of psychotherapy in the medical profession. Many professionals in the community routinely conflate terms such as “disorder” and “illness”. The synonymous usage of such jargon, while not inherently wrong, still confines it to the field of medical and surgical science. In truth, psychotherapy is much more than that. We must work together to correct our verbiage, so that new mental health professionals can deal with patients more accurately and with proper care. Psychotherapy is a multi-dimensional field. One does not simply “ask for psychotherapy” and receive the same measure of treatment. Each doctor is specialized in a particular field about which they are truly passionate.3 faces
One of the more beautiful aspects of psychotherapy is the emphasis it places on listening. A therapist doesn’t interrupt or paint the patient’s narrative for them. At heart, it’s a wonderfully intimate interaction between two human beings: one who acknowledges and desires help, and another who can provide that safe space for improvement and personal growth. However, it’s a two way street. As a therapist, we are working to earn the trust of the patient. Levine likens this aspect of the relationship to an audition. From the moment they walk through the door, they’re sizing you up, determining if they want to let you into their lives. Discerning whether or not you can be trusted as a guide through life’s sometimes barely navigable waters.
Unlike surgery and general practice, the relationship between psychotherapy and the rest of the medical world isn’t as open and shut. Research cannot empirically evaluate treatment and therapy methods as easily as it can do with a new pill or vaccine. Which means we are constantly learning. Not just about the patient, but about the bounds within which we can help. It’s a constantly changing field, and patient and therapist are on the journey together.

3 Counseling Myths

There should be no stigma surrounding those experiencing mental or emotional distress– after all, almost 20% of adults suffer from some kind of mental disorder every year.  Unfortunately, the societal stigma surrounding this discussion (just look at the language!) may prevent many people, adults included, from seeking the help they need. But the more we encourage each other and are willing to understand our unique situations, the easier it is for one to seek treatment. Until then, some of us may be led astray by misconceptions surrounding therapy. Luckily, PsychCentral and clinical psychologist Dr. Ryan Howes examined and clarified several of these myths. Here are a couple standouts that I would like to share. [Read more…]