Surviving the Holiday Season

From the MDABC December 2016 Newsletter:

The holidays are a time to come together with family and friends, get a break from our busy lives, and appreciate the gifts and connections that bring meaning to our lives.  Unfortunately, for many people the holidays can feel stressful and overwhelming.  Financial pressures, unrealistic expectations, and unhealthy family dynamics can get in the way of our ability to enjoy family and friends, and get much needed rest and relaxation.

Practicing self-care is essential for reducing stress over the holidays. Self-care reminds us to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and be kind to ourselves so that we can be present for those special moments.

Clarity on our boundaries, such as knowing what we can reasonably give to others, and receive from others, is essential.  When we are clear on our boundaries, we don’t create unrealistic expectations that drive stress and conflict.

Listening to what we truly feel is a first step…

“Am I being impulsive?”

“Am I promising things that I can’t deliver (because I don’t feel like I am enough)?”

“Am I being reactive, and demanding too much from others (because I’ve taken on too much, or because I feel disatisfied)?”

In the example table below, we can see that “Sean”, father to two boys under ten years of age and a full time employee, gets caught in a perfect storm of unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviours when he can’t comply with his commitment to make his “famous lasagna” for a family dinner:

 Triggering Situation: Sean offers to bake his special lasagna for a family dinner.  The day before the dinner, Sean has to work late, and doesn’t make it to the  grocery store in time. After putting the kids to bed.. for the second time, he has no  energy to run to Superstore for ingredients.
 Feelings  Actions  Consequences
 “I’m such an idiot –  why did I offer to  make that  lasagna?!”

“Now everyone is  expecting  lasangna, and  they’ll be so  disappointed if I  don’t make one”

“This will just be  more evidence that  I’m irresponsible  and unreliable…I  can just hear  them  now!”






 Pacing back and  forth

Can’t sleep

Emotional eating  and/or drinking

Too  stressed/worried to  focus or think clearly

 Wake up groggy

Grumpy and  impatient with the  kids

Feel under the  weather

Dread the dinner

– – – – – – – – – – 

 Helpful:   Thoughts

– – – – – – – – – –


– – – – – – – – – – 


– – – – – – – – – – 


 Acknowledge how I  feel:

“I wanted so much  to make a nice  lasangna for the  family. I feel  disappointed.

Validate how I feel:

“Anyone in my  position would feel  exhausted right.”

Be kind to myself:

“This is not my  fault. I need to be  gentle with myself  about this. “




Relaxed (or less  anxious at least)

 Take some deep  breaths

Drink some water

Pull out yoga mat  and do some  stretching to release  tension

Call my sister and  explain the situation.

Offer to bring  something I can pick  up or that requires  less preparation

 Wake up refreshed

Clarity about good  options

Feel understood by  my sister

Looking forward to  the dinner because  being together is  what it’s all about

The holidays are a time to be kind to ourselves, as well as others. Self-care means listening to our own needs, and being clear about our boundaries. When we have healthy boundaries, we don’t overextend ourselves, or make unreasonable demands. Healthy self-talk helps us relax, and de-escalate distressing emotions. Being more compassionate with ourselves helps us stay calm so we can respond skillfully to difficult situations. When the holidays are stressful, being compassionate with ourselves helps remind us to celebrate the love that brings us together and warms our hearts.

Happy holidays!

by Joelle Lazar, MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor

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