Tips for navigating a hectic holiday season with mind, spirit intact
The holidays are almost upon us. For some, it is time to get out the best dishes and polish up the silver for a holiday table setting with family and friends, while others will be worried about coping with the festivities — because they are alone or just too busy.
Cheryl L. Fulton, associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Leadership, Adult Education and School Psychology at Texas State University, has some suggestions for how to navigate the season.
"I think people can be at risk of feeling lonely, sad or anxious during or sometimes following the holidays," Fulton said. "Loneliness, the stress of meeting family expectations or the notable absence of a lost loved one can make holidays an emotional land mine.
"Often people who are struggling can steel themselves to get through it but then find the period after New Year’s more difficult when post-holiday let down, sadness and loneliness set in," said Fulton, whose experience includes work as a volunteer suicide and crisis line trainer.
Fulton's research interests include mindfulness, which she described as, "paying attention to your experience in the present moment purposefully, compassionately and without judgment.
"Taking a moment to be mindful, connect with yourself and your breath, can go a long way to managing holiday stress," she said. "But focusing on yourself can be difficult during the holidays.
"We tend to think about being compassionate toward others, but often don’t think about being compassionate to ourselves," Fulton said. "Self-compassion involves taking a mindful moment to recognize that something is painful, acknowledging that you are not the only one to feel this way and asking yourself 'what do I need to do to care for myself right now?'"
If someone is overcommitted during the holidays, Fulton said it could be best to "say no to things that don't contribute to your wellness. Focus on fewer activities and making more genuine connections with others."
Before joining Texas State in 2013, Fulton was a counselor for many years.
"I did a lot of couples, children and grief counseling," she said. She also worked in the corporate world and did public speaking and workshops on dating and relationships. Today, in addition to her research, she teaches graduate students in the College of Education who are training to work as school, marriage and family, or clinical mental health counselors.
Fulton offers the following suggestions for successfully navigating the holiday season:
• Be mindful of overscheduling.
• Balance self-care with caring for others.
• Seek out people and activities that feed your soul.
• Favor what matters most (e.g., genuine connection with others) over what matters least (e.g., if your dinner is perfectly cooked).
• Don’t abandon the things you typically do to promote your health and wellness.
• Proactively plan how you will handle predictable and difficult family members and situations.
• Use the holidays to stay focused on what unites us – rather than what divides us.
• If you don’t normally volunteer, it is a good time to start. If you volunteer a lot, it might be a good time to pull back.