Happy Stress-Less Holidays

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Happy Stress-Less Holidays

December 13, 2021

A few years ago, our founder Sarah Stukas was interviewed among other local counselors in West Suburban Living’s article “Happy Stress Less Holidays”. She discussed how to cope with the stress of the holiday season, making the season joy-filled, as it should be.

Here are our 4 takeaways from the article, all still so very applicable this year:

1. Take away the pressure for things to be “perfect”

Oftentimes, we get bogged down with the expectations that the holidays will be perfect. From how many decorations are up, to the food that’s served, to the size or quantity of the gatherings you have. Ask yourself regularly, “Is this how I want this time to go?” Notice if these pressures are coming from your own or another person’s expectations and adjust accordingly.

“I like to give people absolute permission to design their holiday time the way they want to,” says Stukas of her counseling sessions. “There is a happy middle ground. You can see people but set boundaries.”

-Sarah Stukas, MS, LCPC, quoted in West Suburban Living 

2. Simplify and set expectations

Over the next few weeks, feel the freedom to say “no”. I’m talking big, fat, unapologetic “no”, whenever you feel that your schedule is filling up too much or there is something that you don’t want to do, or if it involves a person that puts you in a bad mental space. You are the gatekeeper to your time so set those boundaries! The holiday season is better spent in peace, joy, and calm.

If you are hosting a holiday gathering, simplify what you are offering to your guests as far as activities, menu items, and schedules. Decide for yourself what will be involved, and notify the group ahead of time so there is no confusion. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can even assign roles to different people, dividing up the mental baggage by offloading tasks from grocery shopping to cleanup.

Extra note: Depending on the specifics of your gathering, it may also be helpful to ask everyone invited ahead of time to avoid certain off-limits topics of conversation. This can be anything from politics, to the pandemic, to eating disorders or addictions triggers. Feel free to be as clear as possible on this important topic to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy a stress-free holiday conversation.

3. Make time for self-care

Take care of yourself. In the stress of the holidays, it can be easy to spend your energy taking care of those around you and ignoring what you may need. If you have a regular self-care regimen, make sure to keep it going. If this is something you don’t already do regularly, this is a great time to start. Take 10 minutes a day to meditate or do some yoga. It’s also a good idea to make sure you are eating nutritious foods, getting plenty of sleep, and spending time doing things that you enjoy like crafting, listening to music, or spending time with a friend.

“When we have a bit of joy, we can handle stress better.”

-Sarah Stukas, MS, LCPC, quoted in West Suburban Living

4. Acknowledge and honor grief and loss

After the last couple of years, the chances are good we are all entering into this holiday season grieving the loss of a loved one, job, major life change, or other loss. Most of us are grieving right now, and the holidays are a time when that grief can become difficult to carry.

It is important to honor our losses and make space for grief, especially during the holidays surrounded by those we love. Take a moment of silence, say a word of prayer, or honor a special memory either on your own or together with the group. If someone is suffering from a more recent loss or acute grief, don’t be afraid to ask them what would be helpful to them to honor that loss.

There are many ways that the holidays can cause stress and anxiety. If you are dreading inevitable political conversations with divisive family members, prepare yourself mentally and have a plan for reacting. We have an article with some helpful ideas here. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, this article we recently published may help you navigate how to stay on track with your recovery plan.

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