While family and social events can be delightful and exciting, they can also be challenging and difficult to manage, especially during the holidays. It can be wonderful to see and catch up with family and friends who you have not seen in awhile. It could bring great joy to share meals and time with those you love and care for. However, in the midst of joy surrounding us during the holiday season, at times there can also be a sense of overwhelming chaos. Whether it be from unresolved past hurt, painful grieving, or the ongoing hustle and bustle the season brings, having a few ways to manage recurring stress and angst in your toolbelt can help aid in finding more of the joy.
There are several ways to manage the stress we experience. Some strategies are more disguised and concealed from people around us, and some take a bit more drastic measures. All of these strategies can help keep our minds and bodies healthy. Everyone experiences different kinds of stress, so I am going to provide several different techniques that you might consider applying when you are becoming overwhelmed.
One very cliche, but very effective technique for managing stress, either before, during or after an anxiety provoking person or event is: breathing. This technique is incredibly broad. Believe it or not, there are so many different ways to breathe. I will provide steps to two methods: Diaphragmatic Breathing and 4-7-8 Breathing.
Diaphragmatic or “deep belly” breathing:
Step 1: Begin with one hand over your heart and one hand over your belly.
Step 2: Breathe in through your nose and let the air fill your belly. Keep your hands on your heart and belly and observe how the one on your belly moves while the one on your heart should stay the same.
Step 3: Draw your navel in towards your spine as you exhale as if you were blowing out birthday candles.
Step 4: Feel as the hand on your belly slides down to its original position.
Step 5: Repeat this three to five times to start, noting how you feel after each time.
The belly breathing method is best used when you are able to find time alone. Another way to breathe through stressful situations, more applicable in any given moment in any given space is:
The 4-7-8 breathing method:
Step 1: Exhale completely through pursed lips, making a whoosh sound, to empty the lungs of air.
Step 2: Close your lips and breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds.
Step 3: Hold your breath and count to 7.
Step 4: Again, through pursed lips, exhale completely making a whoosh sound for a count of 8.
Step 5: Repeat up to 4 times.
Another technique isn’t much of a structured technique at all. It is simple: Ask for help. It is okay to admit that you have taken on too much and need help. Sometimes it is easy for our brains to assume the people around us see our stress and ignore us and choose not to help. However, sometimes, people seldom see we are stressed because we often carry it in our heads. Time after time, we come to realize once we conquer the feeling of needing to do everything on our own and admit to people we could use their help, they often respond with something like: “Of course!” or, “Why didn’t you say something?”, or, “Please, let me know if there is anything else I can do for you!”. Generally, people are eager to help and the only one telling us otherwise is ourselves. Stop carrying the burden of managing your stress all on your own and ask for help.
While there are physical and obvious techniques to utilize to better manage the stress and tension we experience, there are also some mindsets to continually consider. One fact we need to keep in mind is: we can only control ourselves. Our actions and reactions and our thoughts and feelings are in our control, not those of others. In fact, when we try to control the people around us, oftentimes, we fail and get even more stressed and frustrated. Rather than attempting to “fix” what others are doing and saying to help you feel better, try to work your very best at accepting others for the way they are and utilizing techniques to manage and control yourself.
Another mindset we can choose over negativity and hostility is a mindset of grace and gratitude. Just like breathing techniques, the idea can seem cliche. But just like breathing techniques, being mindful and choosing to show grace and be grateful rather than focusing on the stress and chaos around you can be very effective. We can purposefully train our brains to think something positive after a negative thought pops into mind. Over time, our brains start to automatically think positively, and the frequent negativity that our brain once drowned in starts to fade away. Then what happens is the same people and situations that once overwhelmed us and stressed us out, slowly stop seeming as overwhelming and stressful and we feel more joy. We have power over our brains. We just have to actively choose joy over anything else.
These various techniques can be applied not only during the busy holiday season, but also when the new year rolls around. Among the other well-intended New Year’s resolutions we aspire to manage, I think we could all also benefit from aspiring to better manage our stress and mental health all year long.
Happy Holidays to all from CCA!