Managing Mental Wellness During Stressful Holiday Times

I'm a psychotherapist with an expertise in childhood sexual abuse and was asked to participate in an interview series about "How To Optimize Mental Wellness During Stressful Family Gatherings."

Not everyone's holiday is filled with comfort and joy. If you come from a family where you experienced ACES, the holidays can be difficult. Here's an excerpt from the article with five tips that will help.

Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although holiday gatherings are only a few days a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?

1) Ground Yourself with Four-Step Breathing. 
Practice this exercise ahead of time so you’ll know what to do if stressed: 
Inhale gently while simultaneously counting to yourself “one, two, three, four.” Then hold the breath for four counts. Exhale gently for four counts. Hold the breathe for four counts. Repeat this sequence several times. Use often.
Think of your breath as your secret weapon. Focused breathing helps calm your body when anxious and refocus your mind when filled with negative thoughts. It works.

When you start to feel stressed, use this technique. When possible, do it privately in a room with no distractions. But if you can’t, it doesn’t matter because no one will notice. Just remember that feeling calm and composed is only a breath away.

2) Carry Your Courage in a Touchstone. 
Find a small meaningful object to help you feel grounded and safe. For example, your touchstone could be a bracelet with a spiritual phrase or religious symbol, a crystal to wear as a pendant, or a smooth stone to keep in your pocket.

After you find your touchstone, infuse it with spiritual power. Hold it in your hand, close your eyes, and say several times, “May this stone (bracelet, pendant, crystal) remind me of my courage and strength.”

Take your touchstone to family gatherings. When stressed, simply looking at it or rubbing it gently can help you feel calm. Think of it as your gentle reminder of the power and courage within you.

3) Visualize a Happy Ending.

Visualization is a proven and powerful tool used by high-level athletes and performers to help achieve their desired results. But you don’t have to be an Olympic ice skater to benefit from this technique, too. Before you attend a family gathering ask yourself this question: 
 “How do I want to feel at the end of the day?”

Then take about five minutes to close your eyes and visualize feeling proud about how you handled yourself, happy at having had a nice (or at least good-enough) time, and relieved that things went better than you expected. Breathe in these positive feelings. Practice this regularly before each holiday gathering. During the event, periodically call up that picture in your mind to reignite those feel-good emotions. 
When you pre-pave the way with visualization suffused with uplifting feelings, you begin to rewire your brain and activate unconscious processes that help you create in reality what you pictured in your mind.

4) Practice Radical Self-Care.
Especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, make your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being your highest priority.

You know the drill. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat well. Keep your body hydrated. Limit or avoid alcohol so you don’t go down a slippery slope. Create daily “me” time. Taking even just 15 minutes a day to write in a journal, relax with a good book, or listen to soothing music can nourish your soul. 
Never underestimate the power of a rested body, settled mind, and uplifted spirit. Giving yourself these sacred gifts can help you not only better cope with challenging family gatherings but may help you have a nice time, too.

5) Let it go. 
Make a decision to not add to drama. Not all battles need to be fought. Not all arguments need to be won. When you’re on the edge of a conflict with your obnoxious uncle who’s egging you on about politics, ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be peaceful?” (I opt for peaceful.) Agree to disagree, excuse yourself, and let it go.

Sure, it’s important to express your thoughts and feelings but sometimes it’s wise to be quiet. This isn’t passivity. It’s strength.

Let go of your wish for people to change. Accept who they are. (Remember, as much as you wish they were different they probably wish you were different, too.) You’re in this together. So if you choose to attend a family gathering, make the best of it. Soften your attitude. Let perceived annoyances go and you’ll create an easier time for yourself. You’ve got this.

For more encouragement and tips, read the full article here...

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