Simple Steps to Manage Stress During the Holidays

The season is changing, and the holidays are quickly approaching. For many couples, the anticipation of the holiday season can bring stress and a busy feeling that can be hard to navigate. The holidays are intended for rest, togetherness, and thankfulness, but that is not always the case.

What is your biggest holiday stressor?

One of the biggest holiday stressors many couples face is deciding how they are going to spend the holiday season and with whose family. Does this sound familiar? Stressors can also include gift buying, last-minute preparations, finances, and family dinner plans. All of which can be exhausting and overwhelming. This can often create division in our relationships when overtired or frustrated, and ultimately take away from the reason for the season.

With this in mind, implementing a few simple steps can help you in your relationship as you navigate stress when conflict does arise, because IT WILL!

First, let’s talk about what stress looks and feels like. Stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as an “emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes...an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences and adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems.” Common effects of stress include: Headache, muscle tension, change in sex drive, fatigue, chest pain, and an upset stomach (Mayo Clinic, 2019). In terms of our overall health and wellness, the goal should be to alleviate the harmful effects stress has on our body. By becoming more aware of our stressors and learning how to manage them, we can learn to minimize the conflict we have in our relationships.

So what do we do with this information?

Here are four simple steps to manage the stress in our lives during the holiday season.

  1. Practice Mindfulness. When we are aware of how we think and feel, we can choose how we want to respond to the stress in our lives. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of our current mental state, and focusing on current thoughts, feelings, and senses (American Psychological Association). When we practice mindfulness, we can choose to refocus, breathe, and change our negative thought patterns to something that is positive, in order to help reduce the anxiety and stress we feel. In this way, we can make this holiday season with our loved ones more enjoyable. Practicing mindfulness in your relationship can encourage closeness, allow you to become more attentive to your own needs and your partner’s needs, and enhance relationship quality.

Your turn: Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness together this holiday, pick one!

  • Take a 15-minute walk outside together. Pick something out in nature around you that you notice or are thankful for (i.e. Christmas tree, cold air, snow). Focus in on whatever is using your 5 senses to be fully present in the moment. Don’t forget to take a few deep breaths!
  • Curl up around a fire and share a holiday beverage. Take time to intentionally check in with each other, asking “how are you, what do you need?” Think back to this past year, what did you learn or notice about your relationship? How have you grown as a couple?
  • Do an activity together that both of you enjoy (i.e. visit a friend, play a game, read a book, donate your time, start a new tradition, exercise together).
  1. Make a Plan. In our relationships, we are all guilty of hearing someone talk to us, but not actually actively listening to what the other person is saying or feeling. Consequently, we then get called out for not noticing certain things during a conversation like desired needs, anxious thoughts, or fears. These conversations happen all the time and can create a sense of frustration and hurt in our partners when they feel that they’re not being heard. Practicing active listening and using this as a helpful tool around making a holiday plan is crucial. It is important for both people to discuss their feelings about holiday plans and expectations. It’s not about being right or wrong, whose family is better, or what you did as a couple the previous year, but it’s about validating and hearing each other’s concerns, ideas, and emotions felt. Here is another great active listening tool from the book, How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich.

Your turn: Practice taking turns sharing with each other one thing you feel anxious about this holiday season. Then as the listener, repeat back what you heard, and then try to respond in a validating way. For example, “I am sorry you are feeling that way, what do you need?” The goal is to address the emotion felt.

  1. Discuss Expectations. What is most important for you as an individual and as a couple this season? What are your non-negotiables? Non-negotiables are the things that you absolutely need in order to feel a sense of balance. Sometimes there has to be a little compromise to keep that balance going.

Your turn: Make a list of the things that are most important to you this holiday season. Then, circle your top three “wishes” for each list. Discuss with each other, how these fit in with your holiday expectations and if they can realistically be met. You get to decide as a couple what traditions are important to you.

  1. Set Boundaries. Boundaries are about holding to your own values and should be clearly communicated to those who will be affected by your boundaries. Setting boundaries can be difficult to do, but so helpful when your boundaries are supported by your partner in your relationship.

Your Turn: Decide as a couple one boundary that you will set regarding your holiday plans. Is it the amount of time spent with the in-laws, the number of commitments you have, dinner parties, kids’ activities, or the amount of money spent on gifts?

This holiday season will fly by. Don’t forget to pause in moments where you feel stressed or overwhelmed and practice gratitude. Check-in with yourself and with each other often. Practice positive self-talk, and ask for encouragement from your partner if you need it. You got this!

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Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading.

Leanne Konzelman, MA, LMHC

Novo Life Counseling, PLLC

Therapist + Founder

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Novo Life Counseling is a boutique group practice founded by husband and wife, Drew and Leanne Konzelman with the mindset and goal of reducing the barriers between you and your optimum health and functioning. They believe that counseling and living a healthy life is something to be proud of and that there is power in embracing your unique story. Novo Life Counseling has an experienced team of licensed mental health counselors who work with couples, teens, and adults, specializing in pre-marriage and marriage counseling, postpartum and trauma care, behavioral issues, ADHD, work-life balance, anxiety, and depression. We are committed to developing a positive and helpful partnership with each client during the therapy process. To learn more visit: www.novolifecounseling.com or call us at (206) 659-5665.

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