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Five Tips to Manage Emotional Stress During the Holidays

By Lisa Hunter

SUN DEC 13, 2020

With the holiday season upon us, let us all remember to have patience with ourselves and those around us as we navigate our current realities. The best thing you can do to serve those you love and lead is to take care of your own emotional wellness. Doing so will allow you to respond with kindness and compassion rather than react from a place of anger, frustration, or fear when the actions of others are difficult to understand. Here are five tips to help you navigate the emotional rollercoaster this holiday season.

Tip #1: Do a Daily Emotional Check-In

Set aside time every day to check-in with yourself and your emotional well-being. This part of your wellness can be combined with something else in your daily self-care routine. Physical and emotional wellness are often linked for many people, so doing an emotional check-in before beginning your movement practice can be a great place to start.

Creating space in your daily life to allow all emotions to surface allows us the opportunity to work through them or observe them through a healthy perspective. Suppose we only create this space when strong negative emotions arise. We may then start to perceive negative emotions as inconvenient and a nuisance rather than a source of information about what is happening on a deeper level in our minds and bodies.

To do an emotional check-in, I like to start my yoga practice in a seated position or lying on the back with one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart. Then I ask myself what emotions are present and where they are showing up in my body. See tip #2 for the next step.

Tip #2: Acknowledge Your Feelings and Have Self-Compassion

It can be tempting to get down on yourself for having any emotion that could be perceived as “negative” during a time when the cultural messaging is nothing but being merry and bright.

Dr. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and self-compassion researcher, has identified three components of self-compassion (self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) that I find very helpful. It is essential to avoid self-criticism and judgments and embrace the ability to feel difficult emotions without allowing them to define or control you.

My favorite self-compassion exercise is to imagine how you would treat a friend who has the same feelings. You know what? You probably DO have a friend who is going through the same thing and don’t even know because shame keeps us silent and resistant to asking for help. Consider reaching out to a friend. Receiving compassion from someone else can help you show it to yourself.

Tip #3: Move and Breath

Difficult emotions are a response to a stressor or difficult situation. Most likely, we perceive that situation as a threat. When emotions stay trapped in the body and the mind, we start to experience chronic stress and exhaustion. The mind and body need to understand that there is no longer a threat to experience relief from chronic stress. Emily and Amelia Nagoski (2019) refer to this release as completing the stress cycle. They make the point that the most efficient way to finish the stress cycle is through movement. I love yoga for this purpose because it combines movement and breath. Breathing as an individual technique helps manage stress, so mindful movement and breathwork in yoga is definitely a helpful combination.

Tip #4: Find Inner Stillness

After allowing the body and mind to complete the stress cycle and process difficult emotions, it is a great time to practice finding some inner stillness. There are many ways to do this. A few examples include savasana at the end of your yoga practice, a separate meditation practice, or a mindful walk. When we cultivate the ability to be still, we build our capacity to respond rather than react to external stressors. This type of resilience will help build a foundation for a more joyful life.

Tip #5: Reflect

Reflection is necessary to increase your self-awareness and make way for deep learning. Writing about stressful emotions and the situations that triggered those emotions is another way to complete the stress cycle. Writing can also help you understand your personal tendencies in reaction to certain types of stressful situations and help you develop and implement new ways of being. If you rather talk things out than write, consider using voice memos or reflecting with a friend to access the lessons from your experiences that will help you in the future. Use the lessons learned from your reflections to set your 2021 personal goals.