Dr. Lisa Templeton

Coping with Seasonal Stress and the Holiday Blues

10 tips to surviving struggles during this festive time

by Lisa Templeton, Ph.D.

The holidays can bring up a mixed bag of experiences and emotions for many of us. Many feel the joyfulness of giving during the season, excitement at gatherings of friends and families, as well as the beauty of the lights and festivities. At the same time, there is the stress of seeing the high credit card bill after buying presents, the sadness of missing loved ones who have passed, the anxiety of the crowds, and pressure of getting things accomplished by a deadline.

It’s natural that stress will occur when so many emotions are swirling around for all of us. Here is a list of tips to guide you in surviving the season:

  • Stay in the present moment – In a high stress time (or anytime for that matter), it is grounding and healthy to work on awareness of each moment and the sensations we feel. Sure we must plan ahead, but we must also bring ourselves back to each moment as it is happening and not allow our minds to wonder for long periods in the past or the future. Keep breathing and use your senses to ground you in each moment.
  • Don’t take things personally – Given most of us are feeling more stress during this time of year, it’s easy to feel more sensitive and thus assume that others’ indifferent or cold behavior is about us. When we take things personally, we create doubt about ourselves. Stay clear on what is yours and what is another person’s issue.
  • Live in gratitude – Take note of all of your blessings, from small ones to big ones. When we focus on abundance rather than lack, we generally feel better. Notice when things are going well and how smooth they went.
  • Take one step at a time – Try not to do too many things at once. Choose one task and complete it. Try not to think of the next task as you are completing another. Also try not to jump back and forth from one task to another too often. It’s complicating and overstimulating for our already overstimulated brains!
  • Watch for negative/ineffective thought patterns – as you are living in the present moment, take note of the way you are thinking about your circumstances. How are you imagining the family dinner? Are you building scenarios of what might happen given past events? Notice how you feel when you are thinking negatively about the future. If you start to feel intense emotion, take note of what you were just thinking about and challenge it to be more present-focused, realistic, uplifting, and positive. Try to speak to yourself as you would a friend.
  • Know your audience at gatherings – Be conscious and mindful of who is around when engaging in conversations, particularly around politics, religion, and past experiences. Stay mindful of not engaging in triggering topics that activate the room with conflict. If someone brings up a triggering comment, set your boundary by asking to talk about something else or simply excuse yourself and don’t engage.
  • Bring in the good – We are all so used to focusing on what could go wrong (which is a basic process of evolution and staying alive), we tend to forget about what is going right. Take time to notice as many moments of joy, beauty, love, and lightness as you can. Positive emotions are useful to offset stressful times. Appreciate what these experiences feel like in your body. When we bring in the good, it offsets the blues.
  • Take time for yourself – During the holidays, there is an increase in parties and gatherings that can lead to burn out. Most of us need time to ourselves to process and reflect on social events and stay in balance within. Give yourself a bit of time to relax daily. If you are at a holiday gathering and you are feeling overwhelmed, take a brief walk or find a quiet space for a few minutes and breathe deeply.
  • Take good care of yourself – With all of the yummy food and drink during the holiday season, it’s easy to take a “screw it” attitude with self-care. This is actually the most important time to create moderation and to work on yourself. Be mindful of your choices and try to create balance with exercise, relaxation, deep diaphragmatic breathing, and proper amount of sleep for your body. For those who struggle with addictions, work to increase your support and focus on taking it one day at a time.
  • Try not to resist; practice allowing – It’s easy to resist this time of year, especially if it has negative connotations for you with stress, family quarrels, grief, and/or overwhelm. People talk about “getting through the holidays” or state, “When the holidays are over, I’ll feel better.” Try to go with the flow and allow each moment, each day to pass with a practice of care for yourself, dropping the resistance of the holidays. They are going to come every single year, whether you like it or not, so why not welcome them.

Dr. Lisa Templeton, Licensed Psychologist and author in Broomfield, Colo. For more information about Dr. Templeton visit The Interpersonal Healing Center website. Photo courtesy of Dr. Templeton.