This holiday season has been more difficult than any other in recent memory. Many of us are away from family, triggered by what the holidays represent, and simply left to sit with all these emotions. What are some best practices to navigate mental and emotional well-being during this holiday season - especially if you’re alone?
Holidays can indeed be difficult, and this year even more so. There are two significant ways you can navigate the season. First, intentionally frame your thoughts on the things you can do rather than on what is absent or challenging. Negative thoughts, disappointments, and anger can loom large. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings, but don’t dwell there. Try to equally acknowledge what you do have. Then, take that positive framework and plan ahead. What can your holiday look like, what can make it feel special to you? Maybe it means cooking something you personally enjoy, sharing traditions from afar with loved ones, playing special music, or watching beloved movies. It’s important to find the middle ground and avoid all or nothing thinking.
Finally, be patient and gracious with yourself. Look out for your triggers, schedule in self-care, give yourself permission to feel bad and then start over again. Set realistic and sympathetic expectations about what you do and how you feel so that you aren’t judging yourself as you make your way through these days.
Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S
Oftentimes when we’re struggling emotionally, just plain bored, or procrastinating work, we turn to social media. Why is that? Is there a way to prevent this unhealthy conditioning? But also, given we will undoubtedly spend time on social media during the holidays and beyond, how do we create healthy interaction with social media when it has our attention?
It has become a habit to mindlessly turn to social media; to take a mental break from what we’re doing, as a remedy for boredom, or to numb uncomfortable feelings. Our social media feed is right there, easily accessible. You can work on breaking the cycle by pausing to check in with yourself. Notice your emotional state before you log on. Notice what you’re feeling and perhaps the reasons for your feelings. Prep ahead of time by having a list of other activities you can engage in when feeling anxious or bored.
The goal is to be intentional with where you turn your attention. Another key item? Follow/unfollow accounts based on what you notice your reactions to be. If accounts lift you up, great. Those are keepers. If you chronically feel more distress after viewing certain accounts, let them go.
Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, VA/KS/WA
Although it’s somewhat of a modern concept, doomscrolling has quickly become problematic for an entire generation. What do you think are the causes of doom-scrolling and how can we prevent ourselves from falling into this anxiety-inducing and time-consuming trap?
It’s human instinct, a survival mechanism, to seek out information. We feel the need to know what’s happening in the world, especially if we perceive it to affect us personally or are worried about it. Negative news always leads, and the problem right now is that so much of the news is negative. We instinctively want to know and in today’s news, this can lead to a snowball effect of wanting to know even more or searching for further evidence of what has heightened our senses or emotions.
It’s also difficult to balance the constant exposure. One key strategy; be mindful of what you’re reading and when. Make intentional decisions. If your anxiety is increasing, take a break. Take notice of the fact you can gather new information rather quickly. If you notice you’re spending a lot of time, it’s usually due to the attention paid to similar items or expanded forms of what you already know. News is different from discussions about the news. Notice how you’re feeling before, during, and after. Set time boundaries for yourself. Check news once or twice a day for 15-20 minutes and then walk away. Turn off news notification. Take control of what you consume and when.
Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, VA/KS/WA
With a 24-hour news cycle heightened by intense election, pandemic, and racial justice coverage, mental and emotional breaks are near impossible these days. How would you recommend we create boundaries while also staying informed with the things happening around us?
Choose a handful of reputable news sources or authors to follow and stick to those. Avoid scrolling through social media news or other sites that are designed to insight fear and anger. Limit news consumption to certain times of the day when you are in a place to fully process the information you are taking in (i.e. don’t read a tragic story just before bed lol). Identify which issues are important to you and become informed on ways you can take action on those topics.
Catherine Richardson, MA, LPC
As we head into a New Year with the hopes of some sort of normalcy, how can we move into this new space in time removed from what harmed us in 2020? Is there a way to leave that baggage in the past? Or, is it more impactful to unpack that baggage and accept it as part of our collective story?
It can be helpful to allow yourself to experience more than one emotion at a time. We can acknowledge that many experiences in 2020 were challenging and painful while simultaneously reflecting on learning opportunities, feeling joy, expressing gratitude, and recognizing our resilience. Joy and pain can coexist. Give yourself permission to feel the range of emotions, both good and bad, that come up for you as this year comes to a close. Consider taking some time to visualize the life you want to lead in 2021 and take some small steps to make that vision a reality.
Liz Kelly, LICSW
While this post isn’t a substitution for therapy, we hope this was helpful to anyone dealing with stress and anxiety this holiday season. Remember, there are resources available to you if you need to talk with someone.
To learn more about Talkspace and their online therapy sessions work, visit here.