To counter holiday stress, give the gift of self-care


Some triggers for emotional and mental well-being at this time of year include reminders of loved ones who have died, financial strain and social expectations to celebrate in a certain way.

Season’s greetings bring the familiar customs of holiday decorating, shopping, festivities and more. However, this time of year, which is synonymous with good tidings and cheer, can be anything but for many people.

To help navigate what can be a lonely, and even dark time of year, staff members at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Counseling Services offer guidance and support.

“People struggle emotionally during the holidays for various reasons,” said Courtney Boddie, Ph.D., director of Counseling Services and associate dean of students for Diversity and Inclusion. “Absent family members and being unable to see them (particularly in light of (COVID-19) since families may choose against gathering in hopes of reducing the chances of spreading the virus) is one factor.”

Some other triggers include reminders of loved ones who have died, financial strain and social expectations to celebrate and observe the holidays in a certain way, according to Associate Director of Counseling Services Jessica Ulrich.

“There can also be feelings of disconnectedness, dissatisfaction with certain interpersonal relationships, low moods due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, weight gain and dysfunctional family dynamics,” added Lisa Thompson-Gibson, staff counselor and coordinator for Outreach and Prevention Initiatives.

Emotional strain can manifest itself in the following ways:

  • Changes in routine, such as sleeping more or less and eating more or less
  •   Increase in substance use
  •   Increase in spending
  • A sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Isolating oneself
  • Talk of suicide

“Self-care is highly critical,” Boddie emphasized. “You practice self-care by focusing on self-regulation, which is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results, such as well-being, loving relationships and learning.”

“Self-care is a key element of emotional intelligence,” he added. “It functions as an umbrella under which willpower, executive functioning, flexibility, emotional regulation and self-management exist.”

“You can provide support by recognizing signs/symptoms of emotional distress,” said Thompson-Gibson. “You can hold space with them and validate their concerns, and offer empathy and a listening ear, without trying to fix the person’s distress. You can also refer those in need to professionals/providers. Low-cost therapy options can be found at Open Path.

For those suffering, consider the few tips below:

  • Be kind to yourself by learning about and then practicing self-compassion.
  • Use breathing techniques, yoga and/or meditation
  •   Get outdoors
  •   Practice sleep hygiene
  • Practice nutrition
  • Use a regular exercise routine

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“A life that centers well-being is a life worth living,” Boddie concluded. “The core message is to commit to self-regulation by scheduling time for it throughout the day, as a means of building automaticity for it. We must plan for prevention. Otherwise, we will constantly struggle to adjust to our current circumstances, whether we like them or not.”