The Holidays – Stressful or Healthful?

The holidays often feel like a magical time. The holiday season means spending quality time with loved ones, a break from our normal routine, and even vacation time. But, while we look forward to this time each year, inevitably, it is often also a very stressful time. As a therapist, I can tell you that my colleagues and I are always busiest at this time of year. Emergency sessions are expected and I actively keep space in my calendar for this purpose. 

While spending time with loved ones is special, it can also be very stressful. Another stress factor is the change in routine. While we often think we like the break from the daily grind, if you’ve been reading my blog regularly, then you know just how important routine is to overall wellness. This time is stressful for anyone, and even more so for someone living with a diagnosis. The purpose of this blog is not to overwhelm you or make you feel like this is much harder for you than someone else- that would be feeding victim mentality, which is the opposite of my goal. Instead, I want to help you prepare for the potential stressors so that you can maintain wellness as much. Here are some tips to help you remain healthy and avoid unnecessary stress over the next month. 

Plan for the Best Expect the Worst

It sounds cliche but this is very important. Whether it’s planning your travel, or even the in-laws meeting for the first time, assume that the best outcomes will happen while still being prepared. We are in ever-changing times so here is what I mean by plan for the worst:

  • Pack extra medication
  • Over-communicate
  • Have a back up plan for dinner or even better, plan ahead for a friend to cook with you so you can take breaks and sit during the marathon cooking days
  • Do any errands well in advance so that there is less stress closer to a particular holiday

This mindset does not have to be to a military extent. Simply take a few steps in advance so that when the time comes, if something doesn’t go as planned, you won’t feel completely caught off guard or too overwhelmed. 

Maintain Routine and Wellness Practices

While we all make adjustments when we travel or for special occasions, in order to maintain wellness, I highly encourage you to maintain you routine. If you know that on Christmas day you won’t have time for your usual meditation, get some extra meditation time in the day before and after. Something is better than nothing, so if you have to skip that one hour meditation, plan to take 15 minutes for yourself during the day, even if it means focusing on your breath in the bathroom. If stretching in the morning allows you to get through the day, don’t skip it!  It can be so discouraging to not feel our best when we’re with loved ones. Prioritize your health over anything. After all, this is a season to give thanks. Use this time to celebrate and affirm how far you’ve come with your wellness journey, rather than undermine or even harm your body. 

The most important thing I want to caution you against is powering through. On the one hand, living with illness makes us feel like we want to make the most of each moment. But all of us know that we ultimately pay for that later. It isn’t worth your long term health to power through the holidays the way the rest of our loved ones do or the way society tells us we should. Your health is so much more important and we are not talking about your health for a few days after, we are talking about your long-term, life-long health. Every choice you make towards you wellness today, creates wellness long term. People don’t lose weight because they skipped dessert once, it’s the people who skip it every day. 

Communicate Needs in Advance 

Living with a diagnosis might involve symptoms that will require your attention or symptom prevention. It’s far better to advocate for your possible needs ahead of time, while everything is calm, rather than in real time when you are in the thick of a migraine for example. Think ahead of time about what you might need from loved ones or how they might be able to help you. For example, if loud noise might trigger a migraine, it would be wise and honoring of your body to share that with loved ones in advance rather than walk in to loud music and then have to navigate your way through that. Some ideas might include ordering an extra ice pack to arrive at your relatives before you land, asking for the room farthest away from the festivities so you can get a nap in during the day, etc.

Acknowledge WHAT IS – Especially with Family

Family time is beautiful, but often brings with it conflict and challenge. Your relatives have not magically changed since you last saw them. While some people might be excellent and inner work and self growth, the majority of our loved ones will show up to holiday dinner with the same hang-ups, stubbornness, or uncomfortable jokes as they did last year. Acknowledge what is. Call a spade a spade. Before seeing everyone, rather than painting an unrealistic picture of how you want it to go, acknowledge how things have always been and find peace with knowing that it will likely be the same this year. This way, if it is better than in the past or conflict-free, you will be pleasantly surprised. I highly recommend reading or listening to the book Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping before your next family gathering. 

Most importantly, remember that this time is meant to be fun and meaningful. Set intentions to enjoy yourself and the holiday season. Enjoyment, laughter, happiness are all things that increase our vibration and encourage the body’s natural healing capacity. Do what you can to avoid any extra stress during this time. Instead, embrace this time with joy so that you can further harness wellness. I wish you much healing this holiday season!


By Kaley Zeitouni

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