Research reveals that holiday season stress can be overwhelming and debilitating. No one is immune. But the good news about holiday stress is that it’s predictable. Unlike other types of stress we encounter, holiday stress generally has a beginning and end date. This enables us to plan how to mitigate its impact.
While this is true for everyone, therapists are faced with unique challenges this time of year. Beyond coping with their own holiday tensions, they are also saddled with the added stress that their clients are experiencing. That’s why therapists need effective ways to deal with the holiday stresses they are about to encounter.
What Additional Stressors Do the Holidays Bring?
Challenging Time Management
When it comes to an overloaded calendar and a lengthier to-do list during this season, therapists are no different than anyone else. And at the same time, they also need a well-deserved break so they can spend some quality time with their families.
However, even when they close for the holidays, their time is more limited because they still need to meet the seasonal jump in their work demands due to increased client demand borne of greater client stress. Finding a healthy and workable balance between increased personal demands and additional client needs can be a difficult challenge.
On top of that, many therapists have trouble being truly “off” from work. Some jobs, especially private practice, demand that therapists be on call in case of crisis, even during their “time off.” The inability to be totally free makes it harder to relax and recharge.
Togetherness: Too Much or Not Enough
The holidays are a natural time for extended families to gather together. While this is an important time for everyone to nurture their bonds, even the closest and most loving families can easily overdose on togetherness. Family members often find it challenging to maintain that healthy balance between bonding with each other and alone time.
What often aggravates this further is that many families have pre-ordained roles carved out for each member which have far more to do with what these individuals used to be, once upon a time, rather than who they are today. This tension can sometimes bring more feelings of dread than feelings of love to these get-togethers.
On the other end of the spectrum, the holidays can be difficult for some for a completely different reason. For those who have lost partners or family members, the holidays are a poignant reminder of their loneliness. While the rest of the world is gathering with their families, those who depend upon friends for support often feel deserted and alone.
Effective Ways to Cope With Holiday Stress
1. Heed Your Own Advice
Since therapists are endowed with the knowledge of the effects of stress, have insight into common holiday dynamics, and expert training on how to cope with stressors, they have a vital advantage. They merely need to implement those same strategies they teach their clients to reduce their own anxiety.
2. You Need to Get Away
While you always want to be there for your client, sometimes you need to find a colleague to cover for you so that you can get away to refresh and recharge. While this may seem like abandonment, nothing could be further from the truth. Getting away serves your clients’ best interest, as you will be a better therapist in the long run.
It is important to manage holiday stress by continuing to engage in the same self-care activities that you already do on a routine basis, particularly healthy eating (easy on the holiday delicacies), exercise, adequate sleep, and mindfulness meditation, all integrated within your relaxation to enjoy the holiday festivities.
When there are so many people around the house and the stores are crowded, it is critical that you find time for yourself. This has nothing to do with being selfish. By establishing a healthy boundary you will be at your best when you are together with your family, ensuring that all of you will gain the most from the experience.
While it may sound like a no-brainer, it is very easy to forget to take deep breaths and give your body the oxygen that you need. While it would be great to steal away ten minutes to be by yourself to do a breathing meditation, merely stopping here and there to take a few deep abdominal cleansing breaths has the capacity to reduce your level of negative stress.
If you are able to visualize that you are breathing in serenity and breathing out stress, you will find that the benefits of this brief exercise will be even more pronounced. In this way, you can grab some respite in the middle of the tension itself which could probably save you from saying something that would cause even more stress!
5. Mitigating Loneliness
People who are feeling lonely during the holidays should consider hosting a group of friends in their homes. And if, perchance, virtually everyone you know is with their families during the holidays, think about volunteering to assist those less fortunate than yourself.
Oftentimes, people say that giving to others amidst their own pain is extremely fulfilling and redirects their focus to what they have rather than what they lack.
It’s Also Your Holiday
Therapists are not exempt from the stresses brought about by the holiday season, and are impacted just as much if not even more. While therapists have some advantages from their training, nevertheless, there’s no strategy that eliminates all stress, especially this time of year.
So remember that, while the holidays are a time to focus on others by sending cards, buying gifts, and cooking food, because this is a high-stress time, it is more important than ever to find time for you.
If you know that the holidays are going to be stressful, plan accordingly to assure you are scheduling some “me time” and carving out opportunities for self-care. You’ll never regret it, nor will your clients!