It’s THAT time of year again

Glittering Christmas decorations are appearing in the shopping malls, carols are beginning to play and children are preparing for Christmas performances at school. At Birchtree, however, we are aware that for many Christmas and the holiday season are not seasons of joy and happiness.  These celebrations can serve as a reminder for all you are missing rather than as times to celebrate. Old patterns of behaviour emerge, your stress levels rise, and your ability to cope flies out the window.

Recently we have had numerous referrals to Birchtree for people wanting assistance to help them manage the upcoming holiday season and the associated increased contact with family members. Often we get asked – How can I stay present in my adult self when all cues trigger my younger self to take over? In order to navigate the challenges of the holiday season, you need your adult self to remain in the driving seat – life can be precarious when your younger self tries to drive!

We thought that we would provide some ideas that might assist you through the Christmas period.

  • Try and limit your exposure to people and places that are very triggering for you. If you feel that you have to attend, could you stay for 2-3 hours instead of a whole day? As a child you might not have been able to leave, but now you can get out when overwhelmed.
  • Take small breaks during the time you attend social gatherings – go for a short walk, listen to music on your phone, go to the bathroom, play games on your phone.
  • Limit alcohol and drugs during this period as much as you can, especially during stressful gatherings. If you want to keep your adult self on line you will need to keep an eye on your alcohol intake.
  • Sleep – so important always but especially at times when you are facing a number of highly emotionally charged events. Getting adequate sleep will assist you in keeping your frontal lobe connected and helping regulate the rising emotions in your limbic system.
  • Nutrition – understandably difficult to manage at this time of year when most gatherings involve eating. One helpful goal might be to try and reduce any episodes of comfort eating or restricting.
  • Keep reminders close by of your strength, the challenges you have faced and survived and the people who support and care for you.
  • Try and have moments of mindfulness – being present in the moment to the sights, sounds, smells, things you can touch and taste. Your five senses will help anchor you in the present. You can survive this moment and then the next moment. Life becomes overwhelming when we lose touch with the present and the past or our anxieties about what is about to happen take over.
  • Remind yourself that it is a myth that all other families have happy, stress free get togethers that are personally gratifying to each family member.
  • Reach out for help when needed – try and balance the season with get togethers with people who can emotionally nourish you. Feeling a part of something meaningful will enable you to feel connected to others. There are many ways to fulfil the need to belong – support groups, twelve step meetings, exercise classes, mothers groups, sporting teams, musical choirs…family can also be created.
  • Overall, remember that your needs are important.