Helen Adrienne L.C.S.W.

On Fertile Ground

When Jingle Bells Don't Rock

Dealing With Stress During the Holidays

Posted Nov 19, 2012

I’m known professionally as someone who specializes in the emotional component of infertility. At this holiday season, I’d like to suggest that the need to have access to spiffy coping mechanisms pertains to almost all of us. Any adversity requires extra coping skills when stress elevates as it tends to at the holidays. And stress has a way of elevating at the holidays even if there’s not a major challenge going on.

That being said, what can one do to make sure that you stay grounded at a time when you might be feeling as if you’re touring the landscape from on high like Santa, Rudolph and company?

Part of the problem is the expectation that you’ll be bubbling like a glass of champagne when you might feel like day old club soda. Forced gayety takes its toll; it’s emotionally costly to not be true to your feelings.

While adversity at holiday time can be hard to compartmentalize, there is one technique that is effective and simple—so simple in fact, that people forget about it. A while back, someone called me at holiday time in a true panic because she was in no mood to fake happiness. I asked her to find a watch or clock with a second hand. I would be quiet on my end of the phone for 60 seconds while she took slow, deep breaths. I suggested that she say “now I’m breathing in” and “now I’m breathing out” as a way to stay focused. At the end of the minute, she expressed shock that her jitters had stopped and she felt able to reconnect with her inner strength and resources. Under duress, it is easy to forget that we have a built-in tranquilizer—our breath.

So, for starters, stop if you feel overwrought, breath mindfully for 1 minute and then choose from among this list of options:

• Ask yourself what is upsetting you circumstantially. Can you eliminate a stressor?

• Ask yourself who is upsetting you. Is that person available for clear, honest communication from you? If not, can you limit involvement?

• If the who and the what are immoveable objects, and even if they’re not, I recommend that you take care of yourself in anyone or more of the following ways:

o Distract yourself by doing

 Exercise, yoga or tai chi

 Engage in a predictably pleasant activity

 Reach out for social support

 Release emotions into a journal

 Find a way to laugh

 Reframe the situation as the glass half-full

 Allow a catharsis

o Distract yourself by being

 Learn meditative techniques such as the Relaxation Response or self-hypnosis

 Listen to guided imagery tapes

 Dance, sing, drum or chant (these all reverse the physiology of stress)

 Become absorbed in creative, artistic projects

 Experience your spirituality

 Create affirmations, positive self-talk; repeat these as mantras

When all else fails, you should reach out for professional help. It can make a vast difference to be able to express your feelings to someone without feeling judged; someone who could provide a perspective that might not have occurred to you but would give you relief.

It can help to remember that shit makes the flowers grow. Adversity can be the fertilizer for growing into a new, improved version of yourself. And the path to that new self is to learn to respond to stress rather than react to it. It is easier to respond rather than react if you can approach the holidays, breath first, and proceed in slow motion.

Helen Adrienne, LCSW, BCD

© December 2012