Many people relate to the fact that the holidays are a stressful time because of a perceived “obligation” to spend extended visits with family members who may be dysfunctional or toxic. The internal debate about whether or not to attend holiday gatherings can evoke ambivalence, apprehension, guilt, sadness, or anger. It’s understandable that no one wants to be alone during the holidays and it’s equally understandable that there is anxiety about setting new limits that disappoint or anger extended family members.
And yet, there can be real feelings of dread about the dynamics that have historically unfolded during prolonged family interactions. People often joke about this “going home for the holidays” dilemma but it’s important to honor the intense and confusing emotions this creates. It’s just as important to understand that the holidays can trigger the onset of destructive behaviors as anxious people look for ways to cope with their overwhelming feelings or lose the ability to manage the challenges that are inherent in this time of year.
When the usual coping strategies don’t work there can be a dramatic increase in behaviors including: compulsive shopping and spending; eating disorders; alcohol and drug abuse; and acts of self-mutilation. Given the pressures and expectations related to gift giving, the debt that can be accrued, as well as the availability and excessiveness of food and drink, many people struggle to maintain their sobriety and keep addictive behaviors in check. So at this time of year, we need to have an open and non-judgmental dialogue about these issues. People need to be encouraged to track and monitor their moods from now through the start of the New Year and beyond.
Consider the following helpful resources for yourself, or a loved one. They can provide ongoing support and suggestions regarding healthier strategies for self-soothing, maintaining sobriety, and addressing grief, anger or depression.
- Reach out to a therapist who specializes in your symptoms or issues
- Attend a support group through a hospital, church, or community mental healthcenter
- Attend a 12-step meeting and just listen if you don’t feel comfortable talking. Accept the phone numbers that are offered for additional support. Re-connect with a sponsor or start seeking one out.
- Spend time reading a self-help book. Journal and draw your feelings to gain insight and allow others to be compassionate witnesses to your pain
- Visit a supportive on-line chat room
- Download and use a mental health app for positive affirmations and additional ideas about healthy self-soothing
- Call a hotline to get support and guidance at any time of the day or night
What other ideas can you suggest to help with this difficult time of year?