DBT for the holidays

Luxurious still life arrangement for Thanksgiving with message. Give ThanksThe holidays are upon us! Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and, with it, the holiday season has begun. It’s that time of the year filled with magic, happiness and fun-filled gatherings with family and friends. There’s just one problem- very rarely does the holiday season resemble the Hallmark ads that we’re all supposed to aspire to. For many, the holiday season is one that can be joyous but also enormously stressful. For others, it is a very painful time of the year when loneliness and depression increase in intensity. For all of us, it is an opportunity to be mindful and be skillful.

I love the holidays, and feel grateful to be experiencing it through the eyes of my own young children for whom the magic of the season is real. For me the challenge is making sure that I don’t get so caught up in trying to create the “perfect” holiday for my kids that I miss out on the moments that are in front of me. It’s easy to get swept up in all the different events that are happening, but I need to remember that a calendar that is too filled with holiday parties and Breakfasts with Santa only lead to exhausted and cranky kids and very stressed out parents. I also have to keep in mind that going crazy with gifts spending beyond my limits isn’t worth the long-term cons that come with it. Ultimately what makes the season magical for my little family is spending time together in a relaxed way, creating memories for us to treasure.

I’m lucky that these are my biggest stressors during this season. For so many, the holidays become a reminder of what they don’t have in their life, and it can compound feelings of loss and disappointment. For some people, the holiday season may be one long exercise in Distress Tolerance. If that is the case for you, then make sure to do a lot of coping ahead. Spend time creating a holiday-specific crisis kit, reach out to your support network for help, and plan a lot of self-soothing activities to help you get through. Use encouragement, and remind yourself that this too shall pass and the calendar will turn to January soon.

Many of us also have increased interaction with extended family during this season, and, although the Hallmark ads tell us otherwise, no family is picture perfect. It’s okay to set boundaries with family members, and even decline invitations when we know that they will be too emotionally dysregulating. If you are attending family gatherings, go into them with realistic expectations and prepare ahead of time for how you will get through them. Choose to spend time celebrating this season with people that bring joy to your life, even if that means you are spending time with friends instead of family. If this a time of the year that increases a sense of loneliness for you, seek out connections and opportunities to spend time with others. Try to engage rather than isolate in order to reduce those painful emotions.

Whether we embrace or dread this time of the year, the best way to get through this season is by using our skills. It’s easy at this time of the year to get so caught up in the big picture that we forget to be in each moment. If we love the holiday season, being in each moment enhances the joy and reduces the stress. If we dread the season, breaking it down moment to moment makes it more tolerable and easier to get through. By doing so, we may surprise ourselves and discover that we can in fact create for ourselves a magical holiday season.