Written by Bri Craig, MS, LMFT-A
As we enter the last month of this whirlwind of a year, I’m sure we can all breathe a sigh of relief. From the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and post-election stress, this past year has been a trying time for us all — especially for folx who possess marginalized identities. The collective trauma from these events is held in our hearts, minds, and bodies — impacting our capacity to cope. Over the last year, many of us have also been sequestered away from loved ones, adding to the strain that already exists.
With the holiday season quickly approaching, folx may also be wondering how they’re going to handle returning home in the wake of one of the most unprecedented times in history. If you’re still on the fence about your decision, you’re not alone.
For many, the holidays provide a unique opportunity for folx to reconnect, but can also trigger old wounds to be reopened with feelings of grief, loss, and anger being commonplace. Not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on in most cities across the country. In order to survive this holiday season, please keep reading as I outline several tips that may make this time of year a bit more bearable.
Calm your nervous system
I’m sure most of you are familiar with fight/flight/freeze - this beautifully intricate response system is designed to protect us from harm, even when we are no longer in harm’s way. Oftentimes when we are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or out of control, that’s our body’s way of telling us it is ready to spring into action to keep us safe from a threat - real or perceived. Sometimes, this system needs a little help from us to calm it down. For many of us, our nervous systems have been working overtime to keep us grounded and able to move through much of the discomfort and uncertainty that exists in our day-to-day lives. Here are some quick and easy ways to calm our systems and help us stay grounded through the holidays:
Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing
Submerging your hands in cold water, splashing cold water on your face, or sucking on an ice cube
Spending time in nature i.e. going on a nature walk
Enjoying a belly laugh
Embracing yourself in a butterfly hug
Doing yoga or engaging in other joyous movements
Set realistic expectations for yourself and create boundaries as needed
How much time do you want to spend with your family?
How are you going to handle conflict, disagreements, oppressive remarks, etc.?
What topics are you comfortable discussing?
What topics would you like to avoid?
What if someone has tested positive for coronavirus in the days leading up to your arrival?
What precautions are those you are planning to see taking to ensure everyone’s safety?
Under what circumstances would you feel the need to leave?
Be honest with yourself. Taking some time to sit with and reflect upon these questions may give you peace of mind in making a decision that ultimately feels right for you. When in doubt, talk it out before going.
Stay home and get creative
Many folx are making the difficult decision to stay home this year. If you are in that camp, there are still so many wonderful ways to bring in the holiday cheer AND stay connected with your community, family, & friends. Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
Volunteer your time or money to a local organization’s holiday programs such as Adopt-A-Family, The Salvation Army, etc.
Write holiday cards for sick COVID patients away isolated away from their families
Binge-watch holiday movies/TV shows
Research some fun new holiday dishes you’d like to try your hand in making
Video-call family and friends whom you cannot be with in person often, maybe even during gift opening or mealtimes.
Remind yourself often that we are all doing the best we can. Showing yourself and your loved one’s grace and kindness is one of the most important things you can do during the holidays this year. Holiday stress is no joke - nurturing yourself through this difficult time is the best form of healing.
Bri Craig, MS, LMFT-A (she/her) is a psychotherapist living and practicing in Austin, TX. A year after entering the workforce post-grad school, Bri has successfully launched her private therapy practice, BRC Therapy. In her practice, Bri takes an intersectional, culturally-affirming, and justice-oriented approach with clients. She primarily serves BIPOC, multiracial/multicultural folx, as well as the queer community. Although clinical work is where her passion lies, Bri also enjoys writing blogs, speaking on podcasts, and creating meaningful content that is focused on mental healthcare, relational wellbeing, and social activism. Follow Bri on her professional Instagram and website for more mental healthcare tips and tricks.