Coping With Thanksgiving & Christmas Stress

Thanksgiving and Christmas are stressful for a lot of people. Family drama, and expectations combined with lifestyle differences can turn what’s supposed to be a joyous time into something to be dreaded. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Nope, I’m not going to tell you how to change your family. You can’t do it. Like it or not, you’re related to these people, and unless you have an abuse situation, it’s probably in your best interest to learn how to tolerate them.

And.. that means managing your emotions, and your stress so you can get through, and even enjoy your family event.

EFT – We’ve talked about EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique before. It’s also called “Tapping.” The idea behind EFT is that by tapping on specific meridian points, while repeating a word, or phrase you change the energy flow related to the emotional stress you’re experiencing in that moment.. I have a client who uses EFT to manage his emotions surrounding prolonged trauma. He tells me that tapping has allowed him to take better control over his emotions and fears. It’s not complicated, and you can tap anywhere.

Diaphragmatic breathing – This is one of my favorites. Simple breathing, in the manner we are designed to breathe most efficiently. It’s the way babies breathe, and the way (hopefully) most adults breathe while sleeping. When you breathe, pay attention to where the breath is coming from, and going to. Breathe from your stomach, and not your chest. When we are under stress, we tend to move our shoulders up and down when we breathe. But, proper breathing involves extending and releasing the muscles in your diaphragm. To start, sit upright in a comfortable chair, or sit cross-legged on the floor. Simply pay attention to your breathing. Watch the breath go in and out of your body. After you breathe out, intentionally move your stomach muscles outward. Feel your diaphragm extend and your lungs elongate. Relax the muscles and let the air leave your body. Repeat. It might take some practice to get it right. Even though this is the natural way for us to breathe most people get used to breathing from the chest instead of the gut. If you’re new to intentional breathing, I recommend limiting your practice to no more than 10 minutes at a time until it becomes natural. Your body can react to the additional oxygen and you can become dizzy if you take it too quickly. As you practice this kind of breathing, feel free to increase the duration and number of sessions until you feel it’s enough.

Drawing – Spend a 3-5 minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing. Then, use paper and pen/pencil/crayons/colored pencils/markers to draw a picture of yourself facing the upcoming stressful event. Let the stress and anxiety show itself in your drawing. Rest for a minute or three, and think about how you want to feel during the upcoming event. How would you like to handle it? What would you like to differently? How would you like to feel differently? Spend another minute or two breathing, and then draw what you’d like to see happen.

Exercise – Movement is an important stress management tool. You don’t have to go for a long run, or lift weights to benefit from the positive effects of simple movement. When you feel yourself getting worked up, worried, or anxious about an upcoming holiday event, take time to go for a walk. 15 – 30 minutes should be enough, but 45 – 60 minutes is even better.

Eating well – Your body and brain can not heal or react properly without the proper fuel. The holiday season is a great time to consider limiting caffeine, sugar, processed foods, gluten, and anything you might be sensitive to. It’s certainly not the time to “cheat” on your established eating plan. At least, not without careful thought and intentional consideration! (Because seriously, we all have holiday desserts that we love, and skipping them can cause, rather than relieve stress.) Going into the Thanksgiving/Christmas Season, take an honest look at your current eating plan. Do you even have a plan? Many people don’t think about what they are putting into their body. Focus on eating real food. Focus on your favorite vegetables, and protein sources. If you have trouble sleeping, have mood swings, or tend to gain weight during the Season, pay attention to how many carbs you’re eating. To many or to few carbs can cause sleep disturbances and mood swings.

Defining why you feel the way you do – Understanding why you don’t want to go to Uncle Rob’s house for Thanksgiving is the first step. Being able to voice that preference clearly, without making apologies is the second. The third step is to determine which family member(s) need to know the truth. You don’t need to explain yourself to the entire family, but if you confide in one or two trusted relatives, you very might well learn that you’re not the only one.

NLP – NeuroLingusitic Programming. It’s a mouthful, and frankly, it sounds kind of scary.But, NLP boils down to “your body and mind believe what you tell it.” Try repeating phrases like, I am calm, I am whole, I can handle whatever comes my way. It’s best to use phrases that you believe can be true. For example, instead of I am healthy and strong you could use Healing is occurring. NLP and EFT work incredibly well when used together.

A Good Dose of Empathy – Understanding that your family, no matter how much you don’t like them, are people with struggles, problems, emotional hang ups and physical challenges can help you look past Aunt Martha’s grumpiness, and cousin Bob’s constant criticism. They are simply people, like you, trying to make the best of a family get together.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and a Merry Christmas!

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