The holiday season is in full swing. Signs of it greet us everywhere; decorations line the streets and fill the stores and Christmas music fills the air. While the holidays have a reputation for being a time of joy, for many people they are a source of increased stress or even depression. If you find yourself feeling less than joyous this holiday season and are wondering why, you’re not alone. Keep reading to better understand the sources of holiday stress and what you can do to improve your holiday experience.
Who among us hasn't had a goal they've had difficulty accomplishing? What's gotten in the way? Maybe the goal felt TOO BIG. In my previous post on setting goals, I mentioned that it can be helpful to start small when setting goals. This may seem counter-intuitive if you have a big goal in mind. So why start "low" with your goals?
Setting ambitious goals can feel good, but trying to reach those goals can feel overwhelming...especially if it requires a big time commitment. Setting small, well-defined, and easily attainable goals to start can get you on the right track working toward your goal by building confidence in your ability to achieve the goal and getting you into the habit of taking steps toward that goal. Don't start lower than where you already are, but if you're feeling overwhelmed by all that's in front of you, try adding just a little at a time.
Looking to make a change? Take a lesson from the playground. Setting goals effectively can be a bit like a seesaw or a swing; you don't want to start at the top. Whether you have a large ambitious goal (like running a marathon) or a less defined desire to change something (like a desire to be healthier), you may benefit by starting low and ending high. Stay tuned to find out why.
In our go-go-go world, it can be hard to find time to relax. Worse yet, many people find themselves feeling guilty or anxious about taking time to unwind. If you feel like you need to be productive all the time, give yourself permission to take a break. Not only will you feel better, but research shows that taking small breaks (e.g., 5 minutes out of an hour) actually helps you to be more productive when you are working.
Have you ever noticed that your mind is rarely where you are? We're usually either thinking about what we've already done, what we plan to do, or what we wish we'd done differently. This can detract from truly experiencing your life, and can result in negative emotions. Try taking some time each day to be present in the moment. During this time, try to really focus on what you are doing. Notice all of the sensations you are experiencing. Try not to judge your experience. When you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the present. Try not to get frustrated by your wandering mind. Just notice it and move on. The more you practice, the less you'll find your mind wandering, and the easier it will be to be present in any given moment.
This practice, also known as mindfulness, can help you to feel more centered and help to manage negative emotions such as distress about the past or anxiety about the future. Research also shows that even short periods of daily mindfulness practice may lead to positive changes in brain structure. Click here for more information about how mindfulness positively impacts your brain and mental health.
People often "forget" to breathe when the are stressed or upset; they hold their breaths or breathe shallowly, reducing their blood-oxygen level. This can increase feelings of anxiety and tension and make it more difficult to manage the situation effectively. Next time you're faced with a stressful or upsetting situation, check to make sure you're not "forgetting" to breathe.
Most people carry around more tension than they realize, which can lead to physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, and difficulty sleeping. The neck, shoulders, and jaw are common areas of the body to hold tension. A few times a day, mentally scan your body for tension (paying particular attention to those areas that carry tension most often), and try to intentionally let go of any extra tension you're holding. Notice the difference in how you feel once the tension is released.
Seeing a psychologist doesn't mean you're "crazy" or mentally ill; it means that there are areas of your life you'd like to improve, and that you want professional advice from someone with specialized training about how to improve them.