SAVING YOUR SPIRIT: Surviving Holiday Stress

So you've gotten through so far… It's the holiday season and you've made it to New Year's Eve but the kids are still home from school and you really need some support and coping mechanisms.  Read on for some helpful ideas.

by:  Joan Ebbitt, DCSW

“Whoa horses! Whoa!”  Marilyn laughingly shouted at her three noisy children.  They were rummaging through the “Christmas Barrel” that Marilyn retrieved from the attic just minutes ago.  “I found the Santa collection” hollered Andrew, whose head was emerging from the barrel with a bag of specially wrapped Santa Claus figurines the family proudly displayed every year.  “Let me put them out”, cried Amy, “You did it last year” she said.  As Amy and Andrew began to jostle each other in their attempt to grab the Santa bag, a small figurine slipped from the sack onto the floor, breaking an arm in the fall.  “See what you did, Andrew!  You broke the Santa!  You always do something stupid!”  Amy shouted as she continued to try to snatch the bag.  Andrew roared, “I am not stupid!  It’s all your fault.  You were the one grabbing the bag.”

Marilyn stepped forward and took the bag from Andrew.  She told her children to go to their rooms for 15 minutes and to come back only if they could “be nice to each other”.  This was the second time today that Marilyn intervened with the kids and sent them to their rooms.  She was getting frustrated with their behavior and with all she needed to do before Christmas.  A single parent, Marilyn wanted this Christmas to be special because it was the first Christmas without their father, who died from Cancer 10 months ago.  It was then that Marilyn realized she had to “get her life together”.  Marilyn was a daily drinker, using alcohol to “soothe her soul” in the past few years.  When her husband Jim, died ten months ago, Marilyn realized her drinking was out of control. With the help of some friends, she found a treatment center that utilized a 12-step approach, she stopped drinking and began attending AA meetings.  Getting sober was a gift sent from Heaven and from Jim, she believed. He gave her the grace and courage to begin to find a new life.

Now it was almost six months since she had her last drink.  Marilyn had developed new tools for living that were helping her to maintain her sanity.  She attended meetings regularly, and found a sponsor who was helping her to work the 12 steps of the program.  In general, despite the terrible loss of her husband, for both Marilyn and her children, life was slowly improving.  But as she sent her children to their rooms for the second time that day, a quick, fleeting thought crossed her mind; “A glass of wine would help me to relax”.  She almost didn’t notice the thought at first.  Suddenly, she noticed that her thought of drinking, albeit fleeting, was a big, red flag.  

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Marilyn went to the phone and called her sponsor who blessedly picked up on the first ring.  She shared what was going on with her thoughts.  She talked about her grief, the Christmas holidays, how her children seemed to be fighting constantly, and shared whatever else was on her mind.  Marilyn’s sponsor told her to take a deep breath, and sit down and rest for a minute, while she shared her thoughts about getting through the holidays with sobriety and a peaceful mind.

Here are some points that she shared with Marilyn that you, dear reader, might find equally helpful as you work your way through these sometimes happy and often stressful days from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year.

  1. Lower your expectations.  Realize that most people are feeling stressed, and that means that your children may be feeling anxious, excited, sad, happy, all at the same time.  Take a deep breath (or several) and just experience the moment as it is.
  2.  Traditions can be changed.  Just because you “always did it this way” doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it the same way.  Marilyn’s sponsor suggested she might want to start new and simpler traditions with her children, giving herself permission to let go and let God as they say in AA.
  3.  Have a family discussion.  Ask each member to share: What do I want to make the holidays happy and peaceful?  What do I need?  What, if anything, do I want to change?
  4. Live in the present moment.  It is all we have.  When you become aware that your thoughts are spinning back to the past and then forward to the future, return your thoughts to the present moment.  Look around.  Get grounded.  Say something like, “I am here in my living room.  The tree is half decorated.  I don’t have to finish it right now.  I will take a 15 minute break, like Marilyn sent her children to do before resuming their activity with the Santas.”
  5. If you are sad, or frustrated, or upset, accept it.  Don’t wallow in it.  Spend time with supportive people.  If you are a member of a 12 Step program, go to more meetings during the holiday season, and/or talk to your sponsor more often.
  6. Volunteer…it is good for the soul.  Even if you volunteer to do something for 15 minutes, or for a day or more, volunteering always helps you to think of others while you worry less about yourself and your problems.
  7. Remember moderation! Eat regular meals on time.  It helps maintain stable blood sugar. Don’t overdo it on Christmas cookies.  You will feel less anxious and irritable.  Sleep at least 8 hours, no matter what!  Turn off the TV and have some quiet time before you go to bed.
  8. Always remember, no matter what is happening in your life:  This too shall pass. (AA slogan)

These pointers helped Marilyn…and they will help you, too.  May the blessings of the season be yours. Happy New Year!