Well, that did it! I was just starting to get into the spirit of things too! The tree is up and decorated. I even put out lights this year! The holiday music is playing and the dogs are wearing their jingle collars (they really like it, seriously, they do!!). Then, I make the mistake of heading out to do some simple shopping. I figure, it’s monday, middle of the day, how crazy can it be? Yikes!!! It took me half the day to simply go to the store to buy some supplies. The parking lot was a survival of the fittest competition. Human compassion, politeness!? I think not! Every holiday shopper for themselves!!

While my painful shopping experience is a bother, it in no way compares to the real and devastating depression and anxiety many folks feel this time of year. The holidays can remind us of both happy, and not so happy times. We have intense expectations for ourselves and our families, that we should be happy, joyful, be able to get in the spirit. Yet many of us struggle with that expectation, and end up feeling down and out, depressed, and stressed. The holiday blues are upon us.

So here are some helpful (and holistic!!) tips to support you and your family as we move through this both wonderful and potentially overwhelming time of the year.

Body

Our ability to cope with stress, to be resilient in the face of overwhelming situations (like shopping!), is directly linked to how healthy we are. Most folks find that their normal regimens of care get interrupted during this time of year. Our trips to the gym, to the yoga studio, our daily runs all get pushed aside. As a psychotherapist, I notice that many of my clients take a couple weeks off during this time of year. This is usually a great idea, to take a break. But for many, taking a break at this time can be detrimental. So, do your best to stick to your daily routine. Get up at your regular hour, even if you’re not working (OK, you can sleep in on New Year’s 🙂  ). If you are on a regular excercise routine, stick to it. And if you are in therapy, or receive other supportive care, like massage, acupuncture, and reiki for example, continue to do so during this time. Heck, why not increase the care you are receiving?

In addition to our physical routine, our dietary routine takes a beating this time of year. How much sugar have you ingested this week??  Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and foods we don’t normally eat become fast friends during this time. While you don’t have to be a Grinch and refuse everything, you can enjoy the staples of the season in moderation. Do your best to stick to your normal dietary regimen while you also enjoy that extra cookie or glass of egg nog. Increase intake of vital nutrients and stress busting substances like vitamin B and Rescue Remedy. Consider a multi-vitmin.

Mind

During this time of year, I tend to remember all of the holidays of the past. Each ornament Andrea and I hang on the tree has a story to it. For many folks, these memories are not always pleasant, and can be traumatic. Remember that memories are simply thoughts. When our brain has a thought, it gets connected to a feeling, and then begins to work its way through our system, creating moods, emotions, and behaviors. This is normal and natural. However, when those thoughts are painful, like difficult holiday memories, feeling alone, not meeting your own expectations for how you should feel this time of year, this normal progression can cause us intense suffering. The antidote is mindfulness. If you have a mindfulness practice, this is the time of year to increase it, not take a break. If you don’t have a practice, consider starting one this year, as a way to connect to yourself and with the spirit of this season. All you have to do is find 5-10 minutes, sit down where you won’t be interrupted, and focus on your breath. Each time your mind begins to wander (and it will!!!), just relax and return your focus to your breath. Check out this great video of Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness practice!  

Spirit

What is holiday spirit? How many times have your heard someone, or yourself, say “I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit this year!” Holiday Spirit means many things to many people. It’s a religious time of year for many faiths. It’s a time of year for giving and compassion. For others its simply about the colors, sounds, and smells of this time of year. We can’t always rely on a white Christmas, or being able to be with our families. But we can create a feeling of spirit. Fill your time with the sensorial experiences of this time of year. Your ears will be happy to hear wonderful music! Turn it on! Attend a concert, or a church service! Your eyes will appreciate a spin around the neighborhood at night to see the lights. We have a drive-thru nativity in our area that is feast for our eyes and ears!!  Your tongue is just waiting to sample the tastes of the season!!  Take it in! (in moderation!)  🙂

Another big way to get into the “spirit” is to give. And I don’t just mean buying stuff for people. Give in other ways. Spend your time donating, volunteering. Serve Christmas dinner to the homeless. Go caroling! Consider giving all the money you spend on presents each year to a worthy charity on your family and friend’s behalf. One of the quickest ways to get over our own holiday blues is to make the holidays for those less fortunate than ourselves a happier and more fulfilling time!

Feel what you feel! One of the biggest contributors to stress and anxiety is our own expectation of how we should be feeling. Just feel what you are feeling. If you’re sad, go ahead and cry. The more time you spend beating yourself up about not feeling the spirit, the harder it will be to do just that. Yet, if you just allow yourself to feel, accept yourself without judgement, most likely you will start to feel the spirit.

I hope this helps in some way. As always, feel free to be in touch!

Happy Holidays!!!

Chris Tickner is a Pasadena psychotherapist, child therapist, and clinical supervisor practicing holistic psychotherapy, where he combines mindfulness psychotherapy,  somatic therapy, neuroscience, and good old fasion humor and compassion to form a a powerful treatment that is transformative and holistic.  There are thousands of California psychotherapists, and finding a counselor or finding a therapist can be daunting. On his website, Chris provides a primer to help you find the therapist that is perfect for you! Chris is also a Pasadena therapist specializing in anxiety psychotherapy and depression psychotherapy.

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