I run the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Intensive Outpatient Group (IOP) as well as see individual clients and noticed people already struggling with holiday stress, compiled with a special kind of stress: COVID fatigue. We all have thoughts and expectations for the holidays, but this year we are most likely very confused on how to deal with the holidays, this leads to increased pressure, symptoms and questions. I am hearing phrases like:
- I don't know what to do about the holidays
- The holidays won’t be right, or the same
- I want to make everyone happy but some family members won't comply with simple COVID rules
- I am horrible at that, I can’t set a boundary
- I am so stressed and depressed
- I just don’t know what to do, I feel like a total failure to my family
So how do we start to manage all of this? First, it is best to be realistic. The 2020 holiday season is not the same as other years. and that is just something we need to radically accept. Radical acceptance is a concept Marsha Linehan writes about and we discuss in group. It involves doing what is needed for the situation you are in. Not the situation we wish we were in. It is not the same as approval. It is accepting, not approval, and trying to make the best of it, figuring out what our priorities are about the holidays and concentrating on that.
Other skills to try for the holiday season are a list of skills called self-sooth. This DBT skill set is basically designed to help you think about ways to calm yourself down, relax and soothe using all the senses. We usually have one or two things that calm or soothe us such as music or distraction with games on our cell phone. This set of skills challenges us to think and plan ahead in advance the use of other things that can soothe and relax us. This list includes using all of the senses, such as using vision: looking at old photos, or a beautiful book, smell: candles, or the fresh scents of nature, touch: petting your animal, or a soft scarf, taste: a new tea, or new spices, hearing: create a new playlist. Make a plan, you may be surprised what else makes you feel calm and soothed.
It is also very important to take care of ourselves, a DBT skill set that helps us reduce vulnerability to our emotional mind allows us to remember to have some balance. We need to avoid overeating, keep up with any medications we need to take, avoid too much alcohol (or any) , avoid mood altering drugs, and set up your life to get enough sleep. It is also very important to get some exercise, it can be as simple as walking, yoga, anything, that is better than nothing, you do not have to strive for an hour, be realistic. We cannot control the virus, or others but we can control our reactions to all of this. We can choose to enter this holiday season with a positive attitude remembering what it really means to us in our hearts and to our families.
Cathryn E. Knezevich, M.ED., LPCC
DBT IOP Director
The Behavioral Wellness Group