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Tips on How to Spread Good Cheer Amidst Holiday Stress

iStock 621928370Twinkling lights and holiday decorations provide a magical glow. Cherished family traditions and get togethers are planned with loved ones and friends. Shopping begins for the perfect gifts to give.

Behavioral Health Therapist Yashia Durham, LCSW, LCAS, agrees that everyday stressors combined with the added pressures of the holidays can create difficult situations. Durham is a behavioral therapist who treats a variety of ages from children to adults at Monarch’s Cary, Zebulon and Wake Forest Behavioral Health offices.

With preparation and planning, Durham believes that stress can be reduced or avoided.

Set Boundaries for Peace, Joy . . . or Bah, Humbug!
Celebrating with extended family and loved ones can be one enjoyable aspect of the holidays for some. But, Durham says without boundaries these events can cause stress for others. “Holiday stress can be due to accommodating others, gift buying, hosting holiday events coupled with every day stressors,” Durham says.

Family events are about spending time with loved ones and relatives, catching up and enjoying each other’s company, but without proper boundaries hiccups can happen. “The holidays may be the one time of year that families get together, and it may seem like the only chance to address ongoing issues. This can bring conflict and stress,” Durham describes a well-known family scenario. “Add in alcohol, relaxing a little bit and it may not bring out the best in most.”

Durham suggests planning ahead to discuss issues before the holiday event. “Don’t wait until the whole family is there and everyone has their own opinions,” she suggests. “Be open about the conflict. Don’t just brush it under the rug if you have a conflict with someone. Address it.”

Schedule in Disconnect Time to Relax, Rejuvenate, Relieve
With the hustle and bustle and deviation from daily routines, remembering to take time for one’s self can get pushed aside. “Relax and take care of yourself when you need it,” Durham suggests, noting that practicing meditation and mindfulness is key during the busy holiday time. “It is stressful to accommodate others with routines disrupted. Take a break by getting some fresh air and being by yourself. It is necessary to pay attention to signals when you need a break.”

Durham said taking time each day, even if for short amounts like five to 10 minutes, can prove to be helpful. “No matter how hectic it is, retain some sense of structure if possible,” she says. “Keep something in your everyday schedule to journal, exercise, meditate or call a friend. Exercise is great for your health and alleviates stress.”

Durham often suggests journaling and is a fan of the benefits the practice can provide. “Journaling is extremely helpful to get your feelings out. Writing can help open the floodgates and oftentimes it may be something that you didn’t want to acknowledge,” Durham observes. “Journaling can also reveal what your true triggers are so that you can deal with them.”

Acknowledge the Departed: Handling Grief During the Holidays
Death and grief can be difficult to deal with, especially during the holidays. Durham said when loved ones pass away, traditions and unique ways of celebrating the holidays can change.

“Maintaining traditions from year to year can become difficult. You want to continue traditions in memory of loved ones, but it can be agonizing,” Durham describes. “Holidays can bring up a lot of emotions in people, whether their loss recent, or even 10 or 20 years later.”

It’s important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings and see who is willing to take on some traditional roles. “Maybe the person who passed was a peacekeeper. Talk to family members and discuss who is going to do what, getting everyone on the same page,” Durham suggests.

Seek Expert Advice
If common stress reducing techniques aren’t working, help with getting through the holidays can be sought from a variety of sources who can listen and advise such as a professional therapist, counselor or religious leader. “They can help process those emotions and there is no shame in that,” Durham notes.

”If you are not a person who is used to dealing with emotions, you have to speak up and express yourself. Understand that it is a difficult time and see someone who can help you,” Durham says. “Feelings of guilt need to be processed. It’s all right to change traditions and not do the same thing each year.”

The essence of the holidays is to spend time with family and friends. Durham suggests being open and honest about feelings in combination with setting realistic expectations ahead of time to enjoy all that the season has to offer.

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