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Holiday Stress – Podcast

By LifeStance Health on December 7, 2021

The holiday season is certainly a wonderful time of year. But it can also be quite stressful. From jam-packed airports to dealing with difficult family members, the experience can be not so very jolly. 
LifeStance Health provider Angel Kramer, LPC, joins Nicholette Leanza in sharing tips on managing stress and staying mindful during the holidays. 

Holiday Stress

[00:00:00] Hello, Angel. Hello everyone. And welcome to Convos from the Couch from LifeStance Health and I’m really excited to have Angel Kramer joining us today from our LifeStance Chesterfield, Missouri office to talk about how to deal with holiday stress. So good to have you on. A really important topic to talk about as well.

You know, whenever you get family together, oftentimes drama comes with that, those family gatherings. So I’m sure you can give us amazing tips on how to navigate that, for sure. So as we jump in, can you first tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe some of your specialties. Absolutely. So I am Angel Kramer. I am an LPC here in the state of Missouri.

I’m the regional lead clinician for the LifeStance Missouri offices. I’m back in this role for about two months at this point, previous to that I had been with LifeStance for [00:01:00] about two years as the Assistant Clinical Director, as well as a therapist. For myself as a therapist, I like to practice a lot with human sexuality and the LGBT population.

I work a lot with substance abuse and addictions, and I also utilize a lot of spiritual elements in my practice. Specifically non-traditional spiritual element. And with a lot of what I do that also brings with it, a lot of family dynamics and involving some family and some psycho-education aspects of this and figuring out how to cope ultimately with our family and sometimes having a lifestyle that maybe they don’t always agree with.

Excellent point for sure. So jumping in right to that, then, you know, with family gatherings coming up with the holidays and everything. Why do you think the holidays are just so stressful then? I think there are a [00:02:00] myriad of reasons for why the holidays are stressful. You know, the month of December, there’s somewhere around like 24 different holidays happening across the board, across holidays, apart holidays, across cultures and across lifestyles.

And all of them kind of come with their own level of stress. Whether that the societal pressure to be Merry and bright when we might not feel so Merry and bright. Or just in general, we might not be merry and bright kind of people. Yeah. But there’s that pressure to live up to it. And financial struggles, a lot of these holidays have some element of gift giving and we might not feel financially able to live up to that expectation of gifts and points the need to travel visiting family, even if it’s 30 or 40 minute drive. That can still put a lot of [00:03:00] pressure on people. We miss our loved ones, whether we can’t see them, or they passed on. The whole shopping experience in and of itself is sensory overload and stressful. And beyond that, there’s the sensory overload just of the season with the lights and the sounds and the smells.

It’s a lot. It is a lot, and there’s a lot of emotional labor involved in that. That’s a good point bringing up that emotional labor with it. And it’s true. I, I think it’s helpful when people are going into the holidays because of their emotional labor. You bring up another great point about the sensories and the sounds and all that.

Even looking at prepping themselves as they’re going into the holidays to prepare themselves for all that too. I mean, you both have so many good points with all that, even the financial stress and everything, so well, so what do you, what do you recommend, how do you think people can navigate all that?

[00:04:00] Ooh, good question. And I also think that something that looks a little different for everyone? Yeah, we all navigate stressful situations in a very different way. And depending on what our triggers are, it’s going to depend on how we cope with it. Of course, there are some general things that we can do that help us navigate whether it’s sensory overload or seeing family that we might not be prepared to see fully.

Yeah. Or putting ourselves out there in a society that almost demands us to behave a certain way at this time of year.

And, you know, we can navigate that by almost checking in with ourselves before it even starts. So like right now in this moment, we can check in with ourselves what stresses us out this time of year and how do we deal with that? [00:05:00] That might be doing some mindfulness activities? That’s a huge buzzword right now.

And I know it makes a lot of people roll their eyes like mindfulness. Okay, here we go. But it truly can be so very helpful. I agree, because in essence, all mindfulness is, is giving ourselves a moment to be present without judgment. I love how you put that. Love how you put that. And just, just checking in with ourselves, like, okay, let me, am I feeling anxious?

How am I feeling? And then it’s, it sounds like after you check in. I think it’s up to that moment and do a mindfulness exercise. And I agree it’s definitely a buzzword and people do often roll their eyes, but it actually does work when people are given a chance. For sure. Do you have any specific mindfulness exercises that you recommend for your clients or even for you going into the holiday season?

Yeah, absolutely. You know, we tend to think of [00:06:00] mindfulness as this huge practice that takes a lot of time. It takes effort. We have to be able to practice these various skills and techniques when sometimes it can be as simple as you know, I’m feeling a little disconnected. Let’s wiggle my toes.

So it doesn’t have to be like you’re a Buddhist monk and have to meditate for hours and hours. And I think that’s the misnomer with the meditation. We aren’t monks meditating for hours, keeping our brain clear. It is simply bringing us back into our body and in this present moment.

So tell me about the moving of the toes. Tell me more about that path. So I like to use simple things with my clients. And I don’t usually label it as mindfulness twiddling, our toes. It’s us connected to our bodies because when we start to disconnect, usually our lower extremities are the first ones that we start to disconnect from.

And wiggling our toes forces our nervous system to reactivate [00:07:00] all the way down.

Wow. And it’s very simple to what a simple thing to do. And I think people would totally overlook that nobody around us is going to know unless our shoes are off, that we’re doing something different. So for those of us who might be a little more introverted or a little bit more self-conscious and not wanting people to recognize that we’re doing something wiggling your toes, isn’t going to set off any alarms or, be like, what are they doing?

A lot of people now, you know, considering that like, okay, they’re sitting around the table with their family over the holidays, lots of toe wiggling going on now. I think you just gave someone a great tip for that, which you would imagine when I shared that most people are like, oh, I’m going to wiggle my toes real quick.

I was like already with my toes. I’m like, that is so good. Right. For sure. And as we’re sitting around those tables, maybe with our families and we’re wiggling our toes and [00:08:00] doing some mindfulness stuff, and this is where I’m shifting gears a bit. But what about some of those conversations that can come up that might deliver outward?

Especially if there’s differences of opinion, know that you’re wiggling your toes, but at the same time, you’re having to deal with maybe some political differences or like even no, we’re still dealing with COVID and things like that, and differences of opinions and how to navigate that. And in those moments, we might not be wanting to reconnect.

And come back down into our present moment, we might be actively wanting to disengage. And that is so that is such a good point. We don’t want to be sitting there. Many of us don’t want to be engaged in those difficult conversations. We don’t want to have that conflict and we especially don’t necessarily want them during the holidays.

It’s just bringing this right back to that societal expectation of enjoying it. Yeah. And [00:09:00]those political, those tense conversations immediately mean most of us aren’t going to be enjoying it. Yeah. But we also have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to engage in those conversations. That’s a good point.

That can feel very difficult because we feel that pressure from our family to be engaged and it might be something that we feel very strongly about. Whether it’s political identity, whether it’s vaccines in the pandemic or the myriad of other things that we become very passionate in our beliefs regarding we don’t have to engage in the holidays in these conversations and having a plan on how to disengage.

From the conversation itself can be very useful.

People allowing themselves or giving them permission not to engage in those conversations. I think it has to be that [00:10:00] famous thought of like, I don’t have to engage in this. No, maybe that’s also, when, if those kinds of decisions come up, maybe you kind of get yourself up, go for a walk kind of even, maybe you have to physically leave the table, you know?

Yeah, absolutely. Other points to this of just stress management tips. Yeah. So part of it, you would just touched on is having an escape plan. We know we don’t have to engage. We know this is going to be stressful in some level and having that plan of how to cope with it and navigate it might mean having a reason to get up and leave the table.

Yeah, go to the kitchen and see if someone needs help. Go to the restroom, go in the restroom, splash some water on your face. Give yourself a moment to breathe and recenter or going for a walk or going into a room where you know, there’s going to be [00:11:00] smells that are calming for you.

Getting something to drink, getting something to eat. Because part of stress means we aren’t necessarily paying attention to those cues. And those needs that our body is screaming at. Yeah. Very true. It’s standing in the bathroom and they’re trying to recenter, right. You know, maybe the special, some water or trying to do that.

What would you give them as ideas of like a little pep talk that they can give themselves any idea it’s just standing there and they’re like try to do some, breathing, any ideas for a pep talk so they can come back out there. Yeah. You know, we all need a little bit of ante up sometimes reminding ourselves that we can do this.

One of the things that I always remind my clients to tell themselves is we have survived 100% of our worst days up to this point.

We can survive [00:12:00] this too. And it is okay to just be okay today. Yeah. Oh my goodness. Giving ourselves permission to not engage. I think there’s that key to giving yourself permission. That’s a great pep talk. If you have made it through how long you can make it through today. And I think it’s so important that people give themselves those pep talks.

I think what happens is people worry about all of the stuff that they don’t want to have happen. What happens if so-and-so brings this up or what happened if Albert gets drunk in the corner and then he’s getting loud or whatever, but it’s like looking at that pep talk of what you’d like to have happen, how you know, and just enjoying yourself, what do I need to do just to enjoy myself for the house.

Exactly. And sometimes it can be helpful to recognize those potential dangers. Tell me more about that. Tell me more about it. Especially with the, when it comes to a plan, you know, looking at [00:13:00] potential dangers, are you saying, thinking about what could possibly go wrong in the course of a family gathering?

Is that what you’re saying? So part of it is, you know, I could have a relative bring up a difficult conversation. There could be conflict. I could be uncomfortable. Here are the coping skills I can use that are in my toolbox to address that, having an escape plan, knowing what some of our mindfulness activities can be, that we can utilize having some breathing exercises handy and our mental toolbox to pull from.

That is an incredibly healthy approach when it becomes unhealthy is when we are going down that rabbit hole of, well so-and-so might say this, what do I have to say? And then we suddenly hurt our own feelings and we’ve created conflict in our head that hasn’t even happened yet. I love how you said you hurt your own [00:14:00] feelings.

I think people think that they are prepping themselves by thinking what if someone says this? And I can say that I think people think of prepping themselves, but I agree they’re going down a rabbit hole where they’re styling themselves down. And they’re not in a good place. So that’s, I really like how you’re approaching this with people.

I think you’re helping them see this in a different way of how to navigate this. Some key out there for sure is this, I know sometimes for even my own family gatherings, I should not admit that I even have to maybe get myself kind of pep talk and everything like that. So these are truly tips for everyone.

Sure. I don’t have a specific looking at tango ways that you really want to emphasize with the people as they’re navigating the holidays. Yeah. So we discussed a lot about knowing that we don’t have to engage. Sometimes we might decide that we want to engage. And if [00:15:00] we do making sure that we are inadvertently adding to the conflict.

Making sure that we’re able to remain calm during this, that we are trying to have healthy communication skills on it using I statements, not you statements, trying to avoid blame, ultimately trying not to add fuel to the fire and recognizing that if we do engage, it is very difficult to change someone’s mind in one conversation. Especially if that conversation becomes an argument, because now all of a sudden we’re pulling and we’re going to stand fast with our end of that tug rope. And if we decide to engage, recognizing when it’s time to disengage and it is okay to stop that conversation at any point in time, and that might mean using that escape plan, [00:16:00] it might mean.

Putting out there that, you know, I appreciate your point of view. I hear how passionate you are. Let’s get back to focusing on our holiday. We’re here for family. We’re here for dinner. We’re here for all of these things that make the season Merry and bright rather than to. Yeah. Oh my gosh, this is gold right here.

This is really, really good stuff. For sure. So validating the key, literally sitting, sitting here, like this is awesome. Good stuff. And I think as people are watching this or listening to this, you’re really queuing in with a lot of what people show up with during this time. And this is a difficult time, not just because stem is going together, but if you already struggle with.

Mental health symptoms of anxiety, depression, you name it, or just, maybe this is a tie that’s associated with loss of a loved one. I mean, I associated with this time that it’s just very difficult. So, you know, you’re giving these tools that I think [00:17:00] really helping people think in a different way of how they can tackle this time and navigate this time and ultimately how to make it a good joyous time for themselves when you get back to themselves. And I think those mindfulness techniques, or just quote, can you felt like one or two more for, for us for that? Totally. I am a fan of keeping it simple. The more simple it is, the easier it is for us to pull it out of our brain to use it in those difficult moments.

You know, wiggling our toes, giving ourselves a moment to look around the room and reconnect with what is around us. I think that’s a good one to get us out of our own brain. When we do kind of a connect to the room, looking around the room and stuff like that, I will get looped in their brain like that.

We’re both stepping outside of ourselves and bringing ourselves back to the moment and ultimately that’s what we need to be doing in most of those situations. Yeah. Also when we’re starting to get escalated, our breathing [00:18:00] changes, our breathing becomes much more shallow. It becomes shorter.

And we accidentally trigger our own kind of panic, our own increase in stress because our breathing has changed. So having some idea, I think that’s a key point there. People do not realize they might trigger inadvertently their own panic. Yeah. Tell us more about that because I don’t think people realize.

So our breathing has changed. Our breathing, when it shortens, it becomes more shallow. We increase our stress, slowing it down and taking some deep breaths to get that oxygen flowing, to get that blood flowing to all of our extremities helps us cope and figure out how we need to cope a little bit better.

One of the breathing exercises that I go over with my client, I call the hot cocoa.

And [00:19:00] this is really helpful for children. Okay. But it’s also easy for adults to remember. With this, you have your cup of cocoa and how you breathe to cool off your cocoa before you drink it slows your breathing down. That’s good. That’s really good. Love that, and that brings us back to center. It helps clear our brain a little bit.

And I would venture to guess that the majority of us innately know that breathing and little kids can picture holding their little cup of cocoa.

You know what I’m going to do later, because I’d love to have focus, especially in Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I work out of. And it’s very I don’t know if you could tell behind me a little bit overcast, very cold, but I love me my hot cup of cocoa, but I guarantee you now that’s going to be coming to my mind and also recommending that, that trick to my [00:20:00] own clients as well, especially that would probably work wonders with the younger kids too.

So, or even, even. Who can’t relate to that. And we don’t have to picture the cup in front of us or put our hands up.

Yeah. It triggers that comfort. It changes breathing. I got you. Oh my gosh. These have been amazing.Oh, you are such a wealth of knowledge and you’re very warm and fuzzy too. So I appreciated everything you shared today. And I would love to have you back on any other topics and share your wealth and knowledge with this as well.

So I wish you happy holidays. And I know things are going to be Merry and bright for many of those who are going to follow some of your tips. Thanks for having me on this has been great.