by Rhea Morais, MS, Student Counselor Intern 
Supervisor:  Dr Peter H Addy, PhD

Coping with Holiday StressThe winter holiday season can be a stressful and emotionally difficult time for many people, even under usual circumstances. It’s often a time where issues such as depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, loneliness, and difficult relationship dynamics can be amplified. Add the context of a global pandemic, a contentious political climate and recent election, ongoing racial injustice, a struggling economy, and the looming threat of climate change, and you have a perfect storm of compounded stress and mental health struggles.

While many of the issues contributing to stress this year may be largely out of our control, we can limit and manage these stressors by focusing on circumstances in our immediate control, listening to our bodies and emotions, engaging in self-care practices, and reaching out for support.

Focus on Things Within Your Control

  • Choose holiday plans that feel right for you, taking into account the health and safety of you and your loved ones, as well as your personal values and boundaries. Acknowledge this decision might be extra difficult this year—give yourself time and grace to explore different options.
  • Take a break! Give yourself permission to set aside work, to-do lists, screen time and holiday-related tasks. Take a moment to relax.
  • Let others know you care about them in whatever way you’re able. If you cant buy gifts or visit loved ones in person this year, consider scheduling a phone or video call, sending a homemade card, checking in with an isolated family member, or simply letting someone know they’re important to you.

Listen to Your Body and Emotions

  • Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What do you notice in your body? Where in your body do you notice this feeling?
  • Validate whatever it is you’re experiencing and acknowledge that this is an extra difficult time–there’s no right or wrong way to feel.
  • Ask yourself what you might need around the emotions and physical sensations you’re having—do you need time alone? Sleep or rest? A moment to sit with your feelings and reflect or journal? Social connection? Something nourishing to eat? Again, there’s no right or wrong answer.
  • Honor your own boundaries. Social and familial pressures can lead to feelings of guilt or obligation, but recognize when it is best to say no or make a decision that others might not agree with.

Engage in Self-Care

  • When everything feels overwhelming, the easiest and most consistently available self-care tool is to take some long, deep breaths, making your exhale longer than your inhale.
  • Ground yourself in the present moment by focusing on your immediate senses.
  • Notice several things you can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste.
  • Engage with your senses in soothing ways such as lighting a scented candle, eating a favorite meal, looking at art or a movie you love, listening to relaxing music, or getting cozy in a soft blanket.
  • If you have a hobby that helps lift your mood, do it! If not, try something new you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Do something to unwind, whatever that means for you. Some ideas:
    • Take a hot bath or shower
    • Go for a walk or get some fresh air
    • Exercise
    • Watch your favorite show
    • Drink some tea
    • Cuddle with a pet
    • Do something creative
    • Engage in a spiritual or religious practice
    • Play a game…whatever you choose, let yourself enjoy it

Reach Out for Support

  • If you can, talk to a friend, partner, or family member about how you’re feeling. If that’s not possible or feels too overwhelming, connect in a way that feels safe and supportive to you. Say hi to someone you miss, give someone a call, or do an activity with others.
  • Talk to a professional! Speaking to a trained therapist such as myself or Dr. Addy can be a great way to feel supported through difficult times. You can call our office at (360) 787-3615.
  • If you’re having a mental health crisis, you’re not alone and there are people who care. You can get emergency mental health support by calling the Clark County Crisis Line at (360) 696-9560 or the Multnomah Country Crisis Line at (503) 988-4888.