Survival Guide: The Holiday Season

As with the trains of the Deutsche Bahn, like clockwork, the holidays are upon us (again) this time of year. Many will be looking forward to the Christmas and New Year breaks; some will be bracing for the impending deluge of parties and festive foods, and yet others may take the opportunity to escape from the madness of it all (check out this handy guide on nearby destinations).

But some associate the holiday season with misery, stress or disappointment. And with good reason.

Holidays are like a giant (salty) mirror that amplifies our daily struggles with loneliness, existential thoughts, or coming to terms with finances (yes, the holiday season can be expensive). Here are some techniques to help us enjoy the holiday season.

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1. Manage your expectations.

Accept that there is no perfect way to enjoy a holiday. Nor does it have to be “as good as last year’s”. As circumstances change and evolve, and so too must our traditions and rituals. Cherish the important ones, but never at the expense of your mental well-being or your wallet. Be flexible about which traditions to change or hold on to. For example, Christmas or reunion dinners do not have to always be at the swankiest restaurant every year.

2. Schedule “Worry” Time.

Especially in a group or larger setting, it may be hard to not worry about what may go wrong during the get-together. Common refrains include: “What if nobody likes the food I prepared?”; “Aunt May is going to talk about her son’s PSLE score and ask me how my daughter did…”; or “Grandma is going to nag about my weight.”

To control the frequency of worry, try this.

First, identify all the tasks or items that are within your “sphere of influence”; essentially, matters that you can do something about. Identify what needs to be done and complete those tasks. You’ll start to feel a whole lot better once you make a checklist and tick them off.

Then tell yourself this: “there are always going to be things that are not within my influence. I am going to allow myself to worry about it, for no more than 10 minutes. But after these 10 minutes, I shall leave my worries for my tomorrow self to grapple with” (or similar words… but you get the idea).

The intent of this Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tool is to compartmentalise and contain worries that are not within your control to a designated period during the day, thereby freeing up your “head space” for important, relaxing or fun activities. This tool has been found to be clinically effective in managing worries.

3. Social Support.

Social support is a powerful tool for stress relief. Interpersonal communication among family members allow us to take each other’s stands and think of how we can help each other. At the same time, it also prevents misunderstanding from arising. For example, gift exchange may be a tradition, but it could be a stressor for one who is going through a financial difficulty. If getting a present for everyone in the household is going to cost a hefty amount, talking to your family member ahead of time about your situation is going to help. This is to seek their understandings and maybe adjust the tradition according to needs. Gift exchange can be changed to “secret santa” such that everyone has to only buy one present.

4. Coping with Unexpected Situations.

Things do not always go in our favour (or similar sounding words to that effect), said Murphy. Plans often go awry.

However, it may be (mathematically) easier to adjust the way you handle emotions than to change the way others react. For example, you can’t control the people who make you angry, but you can control your anger and what you do with it. Here are some ways to cope with anger or stressful situations:

Ψ Emotion-focused coping: Reduce negative emotions (i.e. anger, fear, anxiety, aggression, depression, humiliation) by practicing meditation or by writing them in a journal. Another way could be to picture said others as cartoons while they are spewing offensive things: it takes some of the hurt away.

Ψ Problem-focused strategies: Remove or reduce the cause of the stressor through problem-solving. In time of stressful situations, think calmly of how to change the situation.

5. Reframe your thinking.

As with any social setting involving more than one person, there will be many situations, interactions, and verbal and non-verbal cues that make us susceptible to distorted patterns of thinking (eloquently described in Mandarin as 胡思乱想).

The first step in identifying maladaptive thoughts is to develop an awareness when you start to recognise the patterns of thinking induced negative or stress-inducing patterns of thinking. For example, “They must be gossiping about me”, “Why are they looking at me like this? Is it because I am fat?”, “She is boasting about her son again, I must not lose” and so on. The second step is to challenge those thoughts. Are the things you're telling yourself even true? Also, what are some other ways to interpret the same set of events? Which ways of seeing things serve you better? Instead of seeing things the way you always have, challenge every negative thought, and see if you can adopt thoughts that fit your situation but reflect a more positive outlook.

6. Avoid conflicts.

Sometimes, what is needed is just to walk away. Walk away from your triggers by excusing yourself: “after hearing what you said, I need to defecate” or call a trusted friend to rant.

If an argument is occurring between two persons (and one of them is not you), avoid taking sides. During this season especially, monitor your alcohol intake and keep a clear head about you. Listen if you are called upon to do so but do not share confidential or private titbits with another.

Keep conversations light and optimistic. If you know the person you are talking to is a fervent Trump supporter, don’t provoke that person by invoking the good name of the 44th President of the United States.

7. Just say no.

The easiest the express but the hardest to do. If large gatherings cause you great amounts of stress, it is okay to say no. Just say no. Offer to catch up with those you wish to individually or in smaller groups. Or spread or defer your engagements over a longer period of time. There is no stipulation that says you must visit ALL of your family and friends during the actual holiday period.

8. Absent family members.

Keep in mind that some family members may not be able to attend because of various reasons such as illness, service in the military, studying abroad, financial burden or other reasons. Acknowledge their absence by including them.

If a beloved family member has died, do not ignore or minimise the loss. Be truthful about your feelings and share stories about your loved one. It can be cathartic and healing for family members to mourn together in this way.

9. Make decisions based on goals, relationships or values.

Establish a set of values that you strongly believe in. Then rank your priorities and relationships and make decisions based on them. For example, if controlling your spending has been an issue, make a budget plan and stick to it. If you are a family-oriented person, make more time for your family instead of packing your holiday schedule with colleagues or friends. If you believe that the way you have organising your time is not going to work, change it.

Practising mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness skills will improve your ability to cope in social situations. Developing an honest understanding of yourself and your emotions, and focus on living in the present.

 

*Content is republished with permission from Annabelle Psychology.

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