Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coping With Holiday Stress

"Joy to the World" and "Peace on Earth" - well-known holiday aphorisms, yet the holidays can be an intensely stressful and at times even unpleasant part of the year for many of our clients, and for us as well. There are a variety of reasons the days between Thanksgiving and New Year's can be particularly difficult, and while some of them are common to many of us, others are tied intimately to our personal history. As Counselors, we know that often times just becoming aware
of those challenges can begin to change them. By working with our clients, and in our own self-examinations and self-care, to identify those emotional triggers that rocket our anxiety and other negative emotions into the stratosphere during this time, we can begin to confront and challenge the underlying issues robbing us of our Joy and Peace.

Some common conflicts include increased financial concerns; the end-of-year rush to get things done; a sense of loss of time and reflecting on what didn't get done this year, unmet resolutions and feelings of failure; familial expectations and family-of-origin history and conflicts; discrepencies between an "ideal" holiday season or celebration and the often messy and chaotic reality; disappointment from unmet expectations from self and significant others... combine these stressors with socially imposed pressure to "buy the right gifts", not forget anyone, engage in forced social interactions (such as office parties), and exhibit "good cheer" and throw in usually bad weather, the physical discomfort of overeating and effects of cortisol, and oftentimes alcohol, and it's no wonder so many people suffer from "holiday blues".

So how to help? Whether we are talking about self-care of helping clients, the same basic rules apply. Recognize and acknowledge the challenges we all face during this time. Engage with your clients about their expectations for the holidays, and their disappointments and help them to verbalize these inner dialogues. Once we have a clear understanding of the emotions driving us during this time we can begin to examine them honestly and prioritize our actions and choices to best meet our own needs.

So you are sick and tired of having the same argument with your older brother year after year, but every year you get drawn into it nonetheless? Recognize that and choose to disengage this year - lay out a plan for doing so. Perhaps you always feel a great deal of pressure to get the "perfect gift" for your spouse, why? Maybe it's time to discuss that with him/her or understand that you are trying to make up for past problems with a present. It could be that you dream of making holiday memories with your children, but you run out of steam or day before you've even gotten to do much more than feed them. Maybe you just get so exhausted by the go, go, go that starts with Black Friday shopping at midnight after Thanksgiving, continues straight through tree-trimming and snow-shoveling and doesn't let up until tax filing when you can finally breathe, and sleep, again. Perhaps you should cross a few things off your list this year? Maybe carve out a day for self-care, sleep, or just reading a book?

Help your client (perhaps practice on yourself first) to develop a list of personal "rules" for this holiday season. To be most effective, keep the list short (no more than 10 items, I've found 4-5 works best) and specific (not only the rule, but the solution) and the rules simple (leave little ambiguity or "wiggle room"), and make sure they address the individual's specific needs. Some ideas may include things like: "I will NOT argue with my dad about money this year. Instead I will simply say "This is a source of stress for me every year and this year I choose not to talk about it." "I WILL get at least 6 hours of sleep every night in December." "I will NOT set 'resolutions' this year, but instead will write down simple, attainable goals." "I will limit my Christmas dinner to 5 dishes." "I will play outside with my kids for 1 hour every week in December." Or even, "I will use disposable plates and tableware this year so that I can spend less time cleaning up and more time with my kids."

By understanding the underlying causes of stress, identifying and addressing them specifically, and making succinct and achievable rules and choices to modify our own behaviors we can overcome the challenges of the season and infuse the end of the year with real Joy and Peace.

West Kentucky Chooses Spring Conference Topics

WKMHCA will be offering 6 CEU/EILA credit hours (pending approval) at their spring conference, held in conjunction with the WKCA conference at Lake Barkely Lodge. There will be two separate sessions, one on Sand Tray Therapy and one on Utilizing Technology to Improve Counseling Efficiency. Please look for more information soon! Mark your calendars and plan to join us at this beautiful location for a low-cost way to gain CEU's early in the year and meet up with professionals from the Western part of the state!