Whether you celebrate Holidays or not, they can affect us in ways that we perhaps are unaware of. These triggering situations can make it difficult for us to staying regulated and affect our ability to cope. The Holidays can be a wonderful time to spend time with family and friends, celebrating traditions, and taking time to rest, have fun and go on vacation. AND, they can be times of tremendous grief, be incredibly triggering, and can dysregulate even the most calm of people.
So, how do we keep ourselves regulated and cope during this time of year when we aren't feeling the joy and sparkle of it all?
We can do a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy thing called: Coping Ahead.
Coping Ahead is preparing ourselves for situations, people and things that will trigger us and make it hard to handle the Holidays.
First - Recognize or get clear on some things and situations that may cause a threat response for us. Maybe it's going shopping with tons of people around. Maybe it's certain people and gatherings that have us feeling anxious. Once we have a more clear idea what will be difficult for us, we can start to see what situations we can let go of, set boundaries around and say "NO" to this Holiday.
Second - We can create a tool box to use for coping in the situations we won't be able to, or don't feel we can say "NO" in.
Use a timer - When going to a gathering that you know you will be triggered in or will send you into a tailspin, set your phone or watch to a designated amount of time. Once it goes off, it's time to go, no matter what. Excuse yourself politely, and take off. If you go with a partner or others, let them know ahead of time your plan.
Square Breathing - when you notice you are becoming irritated, feel the need to flee, but just can't do it at this time. You can practice getting calm in the storm. Notice the threat response, and start a square breathing technique. 22.214.171.124 inhale, 126.96.36.199 hold, 188.8.131.52 exhale, hold. Do this about 10 seconds or 4 rounds. Then maybe you can resume the gathering or maybe it's time to take a walk.
Co-regulate with someone safe - When feeling the shut down coming from overwhelm, go to a person that is safe, and understands you and either get close, ask for a hug, or see if they want to sit out of the crowd with you for a bit. Maybe they can be your advocate and just take care of you for a bit. Perhaps you can ask them to get you some water, "go talk to the cousins for me," or make you laugh.
Find a pet - Animals can be very regulating, so are children. When you feel the anxiousness come on, find a pet in the house and spend some time petting and being near them. Pets are compassionate beings and love having you near. Go read a book to a nephew, or play a game with a small toddler. Maybe there is a park near by and the kids want to go play. You can be the designated chaperone and go outside and take a break for awhile. Everyone will benefit from this outing.
Let's talk briefly about boundaries. Boundaries are how we let others know how we need and want to be treated. They are simple and clear ways of behaving, that allow us to feel safe and regulated. For example; Mom wants you to bake rolls for Holiday dinner. ( a family tradition) You just worked a 12 hour shift at work and have some homework you need to get done. So, instead of stressing yourself further, you call Mom and say, "Mom I know you want me to bake rolls for dinner, and I'd love too, unfortunately I'm stressed out, exhausted and just don't have the time to bake rolls. I'm going to just buy some instead." Mom can either let go and let you do what is best for you, or she can get upset. Either way, you know where she can meet you about this boundary. Hopefully, Mom will get over it soon realizing your mental health is more important than baked rolls. You can be proud of yourself for stating what you need and want, to enjoy the time with family.
You can make this Holiday your own. You can start brand new traditions. Do what sounds nice and fun to do, AND you can absolutely say "NO" about any part of it you know will not be healthy for you. The Holidays are for taking time to get rest, take care of yourself, and be around those who allow you to feel joy and comfort. It is not a time to get stressed out and eat a whole bag of chips washed down with a six pack of beer, or feel so overwhelmed from lack of boundaries it takes 3 weeks afterwards to recover.
Give yourself permission to do what is best for you this Holiday. Set precious boundaries and enjoy all the wonderful skills you have at being present and nurturing to yourself. You deserve it.
Ali Astrid Moto