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5 Holiday Survival Tips (or When You Need a Holiday from the Holidays)

Big fuzzy white dog naps with soft support collar around her neck

How is it that the holidays suddenly jump up on us with alarming speed? Or is that just me?

With the holidays of course come family/friend gatherings and trips where groups of people are stuck in the same place for days (um, I mean celebrating together).

If you’re a sensitive person who’s easily overwhelmed by too much…muchness, and you find you need a holiday from the holidays, then here are my 5 tips for navigating holiday visits in a kinder-to-your-nervous-system way. (Plus a bonus one.)

Tip #1: You are allowed to have regular time to yourself

In some families, there is pressure to be involved in all the family goings-on during the holidays — especially if you don’t live in the same city and only see each other occasionally. But only you get to decide how much or how little to participate.

A) It doesn’t make you a bad daughter/sister/aunt/cousin/parent and

B) if they react negatively, they’re allowed to have their feelings, but it’s still your prerogative to take a break for your own sanity.

(Maybe it’s obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me for a long time!)

Build in a part of each day where you can get away from the hubbub to decompress and nurture yourself in the ways that work for you. (Maybe it’s multiple shorter breaks.) If it’s a long stay over a week or two, consider giving yourself half or a full day off!

If suitable, you can let the others know at the start that you’ll be doing this so it’s not a surprise. Just say something light about needing a bit of quiet time each day. Others might actually appreciate a bit of space too.

Or if you need to, just make casual excuses:

  • Say you’re going to the store to pick up X / going to get some fresh air / needing to stretch your legs
  • Pretend you’re going to the bathroom or getting a sweater and end up there a loooong time.
  • Take a very leisurely bath or a nap, whether real or not.
  • Volunteer to run errands like shovelling snow or walking the dog.

Tip #2: Have a comfort item on you

If you’re around school-aged kids, you know that sensory fidgets like Pop Its and Spinners are the big thing for self-regulation. Those might not appeal to you but the strategy itself can help: find a small object that feels good to hold and touch, and keep it in your pocket for when you start to feel activated or overwhelmed.

I have some lovely smooth rocks and rounded pieces of beach wood that I carry with me. They feel very comforting to hold and rub.

You can get squishy stress balls or putty from toy stores and dollar stores. More ideas here.

It works by stimulating your sensory perception and engaging in repetitive actions, both of which calm the nervous system.

Bring a stuffie, or a photo of a loved one that you can keep in your bedroom. There’s something comforting about nurturing that small child in us with a teddy bear hug.

Tip # 3: Be kind to yourself and take pauses

If your family is like mine, someone is going to lose their shit at some point — whether it’s you or someone else. It may help to remember that:

  • everyone is doing the best they can in a heightened situation, including you;
  • Many people’s window of tolerance/presence will probably be smaller than usual;
  • and that even when we’ve done a ton of work on ourselves, our old relational patterns are going to come up in some form or other

When things start to heat up or get intense, call a pause before it gets big. Leave the room if you need to, and if there’s enough sense of connection with them, maintain the connection by letting them know that you will be back once you’re calmer. (Or just get out of Dodge if you need to!).

Tip # 4: Self-soothing tools

There are a number of simple things you can do to soothe and calm yourself when you feel triggered. Here’s a video from Peter Levine (creator of Somatic Experiencing) explaining how to to do a few, including:

  • Self-hug (I sometimes call it the heart hold)
  • Placing hands on your body
  • Tapping and squeezing to feel our boundaries

Tip # 5: An empathetic ear

Have at least one person that you can vent to or just connect with when things feel like too much. This might be your partner whether they’re along with you or not, or a friend or therapist you can reach out to by phone.

Another option is to bring a journal and let it out in writing, or speak it to a voice memo app on your phone.

And those are the 5 tips! Let me know if you find any of them helpful.

So, to get back to that holiday from the holidays:

Bonus Tip: Time to Recover

If at all possible try to schedule a day to recuperate when you return home before you have to jump into the work world. Or at least don’t book any social things on the first day or days back.

Give your nervous system time and space to recover from so much social stimulation. And have your therapy session booked for soon after — lol.

What are some of your strategies for making it through festive holidays? Comment below, I’d love to know!

~Alison

Photo credit aiko vanhulsen


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