-Julia Lehrman, LCSW, RYT
December is officially upon us. With the holiday season in full swing, we are more likely to encounter the unforeseen travel delays, frustratingly long lines, and triggering interpersonal interactions that tend to be commonplace this time of year. These situations can push our buttons and test our limits. Here are some strategies to use when you feel like your patience is running low.
1) Realize that some things are out of your control
This can be tough, but the sooner this recognition occurs, the better. We cannot control the weather, the traffic, or the actions of other people. When we fight against what is out of our control, we often end up feeling more miserable and stressed out. Instead of stressing about what you cannot change, give yourself permission to let go of the struggle and move forward.
2) Realize that some things are in your control
Hooray! While it is not always easy, we do have the power to control our actions and reactions. We also have the ability to influence our state of consciousness (see #4), mental processes (see #5), and physiological responses (see #6). By effectively drawing upon your own personal resources, you allow yourself the opportunity to regain control and feel more at ease. By focusing on what you can control, you become not only less stressed, but more empowered.
3) Learn to surrender and accept
Instead of resisting against the things that are out of our control, we can choose to surrender. There is absolutely no connotation of weakness or defeat by choosing this route. To surrender is to find acceptance for that which we cannot change. When we release resistance and welcome acceptance, we actively reduce our own suffering. Finding acceptance helps decrease stress and other difficult emotions while simultaneously increasing feelings of liberation. By learning to surrender, you actually win.
4) Be mindful
Pause for a moment. Discern what is happening inside of you right now. Try to observe your internal experience, just as it is, without judgment. See if you can be an objective witness to your own inner-workings. Encourage yourself to become more conscious of what is transpiring within you. From there, you can more clearly see what is happening around you. Being mindful is a way to lessen the gap between the stressed-out version of yourself and who you are when functioning at your optimum level. Practicing mindfulness brings you one step closer to becoming the best version of yourself.
5) Take charge of your thoughts
Although sometimes it might not seem like it, we are in control of our thoughts. The goal is not to ignore or deny the thoughts, but rather to clearly see them, acknowledge them, and then transform them. Try to honestly type out your thoughts or write them in a journal. Once you identify your thought patterns, you are better equipped to change your thinking from negative to positive. Since our thoughts so greatly impact our emotions and behaviors, this shift can play a crucial role in decreasing stress and the actions that accompany it. As the saying goes, “what you think, you become”.
6) Use your breath
Your breath is a tool that you always have with you. It is there for you no matter where you are, no matter who you are with, and no matter what is going on around you. Your breath connects your mind and body and it can be your greatest ally in dissipating stress. As you breathe in, think of the word “inhale” and as you breathe out, think of the word “exhale”. Continue to silently and steadily label your inhales and exhales until you find a steady rhythm in your breathing. Keep focusing on your breath to calm your nervous system and stay present. Like icicles melting outside, watch your stress slowly start to disappear.
7) Look on the bright side
Again, this can be challenging, but also entirely doable. See if you can focus on the positive or find the silver lining in frustrating and stressful situations. Try to think of something you are grateful for, rather than automatically honing in on the negative or what is going wrong. Gratitude has been shown to help reduce negative emotions such as stress and improve connection to the self and others. Also, sometimes the most disastrous seeming situations are the ones that actually end up turning out the best. Open yourself up to all the possibilities.
8) Take care of yourself
Self-care is a potent remedy for stress and a main ingredient in our overall well-being. Often, the more stressed we become, the less we take care of ourselves. Although it may take time, self-care is time well-invested and can prevent burn out. You might try exercising, taking a shower or bath, drinking herbal tea, eating a balanced and healthy meal, resting/ getting a good night of sleep, going for a massage or manicure/pedicure or engaging in any other relaxing activity that brings you peace. It is impossible to pour from an empty cup, so try to replenish yours as much as possible with healthy amounts of self-care.
9) Try not to compare
Relinquish the temptation to compare yourself to others. Whether on social media or in person, comparing can lead to distorted perceptions and feelings of stress. Notice if comparing is a habitual or automatic response for you. Rather than operating from a scarcity mindset, aim to cultivate an attitude of joyful abundance. Believe that you already possess all the qualities necessary to attract happiness and success. Sometimes it is just a matter of unveiling and embracing those attributes that may be cloaked in fear or self-doubt. Sprinkle in a word or two of kindness and provide yourself a calming elixir to soothe holiday stress away.
We all experience stress to varying degrees. Some situations and exchanges can be more provoking than others. Mindfulness techniques such as the ones described in the steps above have an infinite number of potential applications for counteracting stress and other types of emotional distress. Try using these tactics in various situations in your daily life and see what happens.
Therapy is a great place to process the causes and effects of stress beyond the holiday season. With the new year around the corner, now is as good a time as any to get a head start on your goals for 2017. If you are curious about learning more or want to explore ways to utilize these skills on a regular basis, contact me today!