Megan Smalley, MA, tLMFT

Megan Smalley, MA, tLMFT

Megan enjoys working with people of all ages. One of her focal points is helping clients break down the emotional walls that tend to hold people back. As a result, she can help patients see the driving forces behind their behaviors. This approach includes a strength-based, family systems approach that is personalized to each client.

There is no rule book on what we should feel or do during the holidays. Even though there is no holiday rule book, sometimes the demands of the holidays spike our stress levels anyway. Finding ways to cope with the stress of the holidays can help us to find our joy this holiday season.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

We can do hard things. Holidays are a time of joy and hope but they are also hard. They are hard for many people, for many different reasons. With the holidays comes family and stress, whether it be financial struggles, grieving the loss of a loved one, or dealing with family members who view life differently than us. Of course there are many other hard things we experience during the holidays but there is one thing they all have in common, they all affect our mental health.

Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

There is no rule book on what we should feel or do during the holidays. Even though there is no holiday rule book, sometimes the demands of the holidays spike our stress levels anyway. Finding ways to cope with the stress of the holidays can help us to find our joy this holiday season.

Acknowledge Unrealistic Demands

My first thought when the holidays roll around is usually what I should be doing. I should wait until after Thanksgiving to put up the tree. I should send out holiday cards. I should feel joy. What happens if I don’t, though? Where did all of these shoulds come from? Over the years, I have come to realize that it is ok to make the holidays my own. When we think about all of the demands of the holidays, it can be overwhelming. Instead, step back and decide what you want your holiday to look like. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nothing about this year is perfect. This holiday season will look different than it has in years past and that is ok. Make new traditions. Find new ways to celebrate.

Practice Gratitude

Stress during the holidays can be challenging. For most, Covid-19 has added additional stress. Practicing gratitude helps to reduce stress and leads us to be able to express more kindness and compassion. Try keeping a gratitude journal. Write one thing you are grateful for each day. Reach out to loved ones and let them know you appreciate them. Notice what is good and what you wouldn’t want to change.

Feel Your Feelings

Your feelings are valid and need to be felt. You may have experienced loss this holiday season. You may not be able to spend time with those closest to you like you normally can. It is okay to feel emotions and cry. Similarly, it’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are hard and real, and the holidays aren’t always going to be jolly just because you think they should be.

Set Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries are key in reducing stress during the holidays. The great thing about boundaries is that we get to decide what they are. Plan ahead and determine what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. Normalize saying no. Sometimes we think we have to say yes to everything but that is not the case. Saying yes all of the time leads us to become overwhelmed and stressed. During the holidays, set healthy boundaries and stick to them.

Practice Self-Care

The holidays require us to give so much of our time and effort to others. Imagine a bucket. This bucket represents you. The water in the bucket represents what you have to give. During the holidays we tend to pour from our buckets but we forget to fill them back up. Self-care is what fills your bucket. When we continuously pour from our bucket into others and fail to fill ours back up, we run dry. Think about what fills your bucket and be intentional about following through.

In addition, make yourself a self-care menu or find one online. I have found it helpful to give myself a daily self-care allowance of 30 minutes. Some of the self-care activities take a couple minutes, some take a little longer. I use that allowance to choose different activities from this menu. For example, today I am choosing to spend my 30 minutes on planning my day (3 minutes), expressing gratitude (2 minutes), organizing my space (5 minutes), and moving my body (20 minutes).

Utilize Your Support System

Having a healthy support system can be one of our greatest ways to decrease stress. Identify the people in your life who you can share your thoughts with. Many are feeling isolated this year. Sharing your deepest thoughts and feeling important in the lives of others can help to avoid feelings of isolation which can lead to stress and anxiety.

Take a Mindful Minute

Consciously practice mindful awareness to decrease stress and become less reactive to negative thoughts. Practice deep breathing as a way to slow down your thoughts. Be aware of what is going on inside of your body. Notice thoughts and feelings but don’t fight them. Relax your body. Focus on your muscles that feel tense and relax them. By allowing our upsetting thoughts to come and go, we are able to be fully present in the moment and lessen our stress.

Seek Professional Help

If you are still noticing difficulties controlling your stress, reach out for help. It is ok to admit you are struggling and need help to cope with the overwhelming feelings of the holidays. It is ok to not be ok.

The holidays are tough. They can also be a time of joy and celebration. Taking a little bit of extra time and focusing on yourself can make all of the difference. Taking the steps to be proactive in lessening your holiday stress may even allow you to enjoy the love and cherish the memories of the season.

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