6 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress

Depending on which study you consult, anywhere from 38-70% of us experience increased stress during the Christmas Season. It's a time of year where expectations rise and resources can feel short.

In my work, many clients come to me with life problems which seem insurmountable; and yet I have seen - time and time again - that when we step back together we find that the answers to their problems actually lie within the client themselves - and therefore, within their control. Let's see how wisdom gained in psychotherapy can be applied to this particularly vibrant time of year. Here are 6 tips to relieve the holiday stress (with a few more tucked in if you look!):

1. Focus on what's important - not just what's urgent: don't lose sight of what really matters


It's easy to be left with a sense of emptiness if we get caught up in the busy-ness of the season and haven't made time for the things which we actually really care about. The festive season can feel like one long to-do list in which our true selves are lost. Pay attention to whose agenda you are following. Say 'No' to others when necessary so that you can say 'Yes' to your real desires. You can't do everything and if you are feeling overwhelmed it is often a sign that you are caught in a cycle of meeting others' needs and not your own.

Emily Pailthorpe

2. Expect imperfection

As we gear up for the holidays, we so often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves on every front and are disappointed when we manage less than perfection in every aspect of our lives. This is particularly true for high-achievers.

Take a moment to remember why we are celebrating rather than what we want our celebrations to look like - how we want to feel rather than how we want everything to be presented. Everything is perfect in magazine-land, and everything which is lived if full of imperfection - that is its beauty!

3. Know when you are being an adult and when you are being a child

Whether we are aware of it or not, it is natural to regularly shift between a child and adult stance in all our relationships; and at a time of year when we are more likely to be visiting with our families of origin this can be even more pronounced. It can feel wonderful to be taken care of and the delight which our child-like parts can hold can bring real joy - as long as our system is balanced out by adult feelings of empowerment and agency.

When you are flooded by emotion, it is usually a sign that a child-like part has taken over your system. At these times, remember that you also have adult parts, full of adult resources.

Attending to who we are in any interaction and within ourselves can help us greatly in navigating this time of year.

Emily Pailthorpe

4. Be wary of 'Shoulds'

Much of the distress I witness my clients experiencing comes from a separation between their experience, and what they think their experience should be. The word 'think' is important here: often when we check in with ourselves we find that the 'should' we hear inside ourselves are actually inherited or put upon us by others. Take the time to experience 'what is' and to become aware of what expectations you may be carrying. Notice if you are criticising yourself and your experience with 'should'.

I know that gratitude has become a buzz word - but our neural system fires differently when we view the world through this lens: it boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and activates the brain stem to produce dopamine. In short, attending to the expectations with which we are burdening our experience can drastically affect our mood day to day.

5. Be sceptical of the curated

When I used to attend auditions as a musician, I learned that everyone sounds good through a closed door - the same principal applies to people's presentations of themselves! Lets's never forget that although social media serves to connect us, its first and foremost function is to generate income and this is best done if we feel wanting. Christmas cards can be a wonderful way to connect - but they can also spread the illusion that others' lives are perfect and leave us feeling diminished.

Some healthy scepticism is useful here; enjoy what brings you real joy and be ready to remind yourself that it is all an illusion if you begin to feel wanting.

The Door W4

6. Don't forget the impact of the basics

I know I know! But it is so easy to forget how cutting sleep, unhealthy eating, alcohol and lack of exercise can raise our cortisol levels and profoundly affect our mood. Keep in mind that it is all a balancing act: be kind to yourself, treat yourself, and also give yourself the best chance of feeling good this festive season.

Book a Consultation with Emily

Emily Pailthorpe is the Psychotherapist at The Door W4 where she sees clients in person on Tuesdays.

Emily is an Integrative Psychotherapist, Emotional Processing Coach and world-class performing musician with over 20 years experience of helping clients process emotion and find their optimum flow. Her pioneering approach has made her in demand internationally.

Emily Pailthorpe
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