It happens every year; that dreaded time when consumers feverishly scramble for the best deals in the major retailers trying to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Television, radio, internet, snail mail- anywhere an ad can be placed- all bombard you with advertising to bring hype to these major retail events. Some live for the Black Friday deals and adore the excitement surrounding this time of year preparing in advance and mapping out their strategy. Others live for the excitement of seeing the first decorations hitting the store displays. Halloween has not even passed and Christmas décor slowly infuses itself in our shopping experiences. While still even others regard this time as the most recluse they can possibly become. The stimulus of the shopping season is all too overwhelming. It can be quite challenging to escape it all when so many reminders are in front of us each day.
How does one manage the stimulus when it hits us in the face? We learn to function on a level of survival mode. This may mean a worsening of mental health- including sadness, depression, irritability, anger, and more. It can feel like living behind bars. No freedom to escape. For those living in areas that succumb to inclement weather conditions, such as the Northeast, it can feel doubly worse. This is a time of year when many people come together for religious or social reasons. Some say it’s more about the retail and shopping, which in turn, would diminish the original meaning behind some of the winter season holidays. Whatever you call it, it can be a demanding time for some people who are more sensitive to their surroundings.
Crowds, extra noise (holiday music), longer waits in line, and the pressure to spend time with family all add up to this overload. It can feel like an eternity just to get back to a baseline of emotion. How do I deal with all of this? There are some techniques you can employ that may help you get through these times such as mindfulness. Let’s take a look at some things you can work on now to help you survive the holidays. Just making some small changes in your routine might make all the difference.
Managing crowds. It seems I can’t go anywhere until just before stores close in order to handle walking through or being in crowds. I need my personal space. This is one that actually can be problematic for some people on a year-round basis. More than likely you already use a couple techniques to get through this type of problem so just a little more creativity to work on this will be needed. You probably head into stores in their down time- early afternoons when others might be working or first thing when they open. As a holiday draws nearer- that crowd might get a little bigger once children’s school’s go on a winter break.
It’s important to take note that you can still manage these times and get through without increasing your anxiety too much. Some things that may help are headphones/earbuds. Many people carry cell phones that can store music or links to music apps. Or invest in a device specifically made for listening to music. Using gentle, soothing music, or just your favorite tunes, can make a big difference in how you experience these challenges. Although it is not a mindfulness technique it can help you focus on what is in front of you. Even if you are not able to stream music- just using earbuds can reduce the noises around you to make things more tolerable. Remind yourself that you are working on managing the experience so there may be some bumps- such as people brushing past you, walking into you, or even children playing around.
Try to stay focused on your goal. If you are headed to a mall, which can get pretty crowded, remind yourself what you wanted to achieve, such as visit one or two stores. Take a moment to plan out how to access each store. If the mall is crowded, and the stores are on opposing sides of the mall consider walking outside (added exercise) the perimeter of the mall or, if you have your own transportation, park close to one of the stores then drive yourself close to the other store. This is not to say you should avoid mall-walking. If you can put yourself up to the challenge, take deep breaths as you walk inside that mall. Keep your goal in mind. Do things like recite the alphabet in your head while you walk or count your footsteps. Count how many people are wearing the color red or have long coats versus short coats. These are small ways to practice mindfulness. By choosing to walk the mall inside and working on these things, you are helping yourself in tremendous ways.
Holiday traffic. This is the worst time of year for me and I can’t avoid being in the traffic. Sometimes I feel like I’m headed into a bout of road rage.
First and foremost, do not drive if you experiencing an increase in emotions. Road rage is just as bad as driving under the influence. The heightened emotions- driving angry- can be just as lethal, and can result in poor decision-making. Your mind can forget the fact that you are responsible for thousands of pounds of machinery and at a moment’s notice could cause severe problems. Not just for you, but also for innocent people around you. It is helpful to take a mental note in preparation of your driving and remind yourself that driving at that time will be slower, faster, more crowded, or overwhelming in general. When possible, give yourself extra time before you need to be at a destination and make sure you are feeling rested.
Once again, music can be helpful in this situation, or playing an audio book. (Do not drive with headphones or earbuds in!) If you are driving with others, can someone else do the driving? Are there other routes you can take? Yes, it might be longer, but perhaps that can be a good compromise if you know certain types of traffic trigger anger while driving. Consider making a stop halfway to your destination to recharge yourself. Perhaps your favorite coffee shop or a grocery store could be a brief stopover in your travels. Or even pull into a parking lot along the way and make a quick call to someone. (You may also consider confiding in someone for support who you can contact to make a quick check-in.)
If you are in the midst of driving and the sensation of road rage has come upon you, safely drive yourself to a parking lot, side of the road, or rest area to regain a sense of perspective. You may even want to step out of the car and take a short walk to engage yourself in a different mode of thinking. Take slow, deep breaths and take notice of what is around you in the moment. If you suffer more from anxiety- these techniques may be just as helpful. If your emotions are too overwhelming, you may want to consider using public transportation if it is available in your area.
Social outings/get-togethers. I have a tough time when it comes to spending long periods of time with family and friends. Too many people in one place will really raise my anxiety. I usually just want to turn down any invitations. Socializing- especially on an actual holiday, such as Thanksgiving, have traditionally been an important one for many people. Families will have large gatherings or friends will have large parties. For some people, even when it’s people they know, it can take a lot of energy to participate. You don’t have to confine yourself to your home every holiday to escape the invitations. There might be some ways to help you stay socialized and keep anxiety low.
Give yourself time to recuperate. If you are familiar with where you will be going, you might have a good idea on ways you can find some quiet time among the talkers and noise. Finding a quiet room can help recharge you. If you are not familiar with a home you maybe going to- ask your host if there is a quiet room you can excuse yourself to make a phone call or step outside for a quick walk. You can always just say you need some fresh air to wake up after such a big meal. You can also volunteer to help clean up after the meal. Focusing on cleanup can alleviate some anxiety and stress by keeping yourself mindful of the moment (cleaning the dishes in front of you.) The noise level may be reduced by then also as some people take to napping after a heavy meal! Other options are to keep your visit time-limited. Let your host know you need to leave after dinner or whatever you have designated as your departure time.
Feeling pressure to buy, buy, buy!! I want to show my friends and family that I care about them. Everyone is always buying gifts and I really don’t have much money. I can’t afford to buy much if anything at all.
Aren’t we all faced with this dilemma? Somewhere along the lines of observing holidays a custom of giving gifts has become a standard gesture. For many people this just isn’t a feasible option for their budget. As families grow we feel pressure to buy gifts for everyone. Sometimes the best gifts cannot be purchased in a store. Not everyone has an artistic talent, so in those instances it may take a little more energy to come up with something creative.
Take time to think about what these holidays are all about. Perhaps thinking about the reasons for the holidays can help put things in perspective. If you absolutely feel the need to give gifts or maybe you have a tough time with some family members feeling slighted because you didn’t give a gift in return consider some unique and personal ways to express you care.
The internet has a wealth of information on ideas. Upcycling, creative cards ideas, handmade gifts, cook, or bake a dish- or even just offer your time for a friendly visit or run some errands. You would be amazed how grateful a person would be just to give them a little help.
Overall, don’t limit yourself to the ways you can still be present at holiday times. Taking risks is the greatest way to inspire and sustain change in your life. You got this!
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Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.