The holidays are usually thought of as a time when people reflect on their lives. People look at what they have. People look at what they don't have. People move about their worlds quickly, shopping, planning, preparing, and praying for the best holidays yet.

During holiday time, from Thanksgiving to Hanukah to Christmas and New Years, everything is heightened: our thoughts, our moods, our hopes, our fears, our wishes and regrets, and, more concretely, our credit card charges! It is no wonder that we feel stressed during this time of year, but don't fret: I've got some good news.

When our world proves far from peaceful it is still possible for us to have a spectacular holiday season filled with joy, good spirit, glad tidings, and warmth. While this time of year may prove challenging, all things are possible with some directive guidance to help get you through while maintaining wellness.

I always share my Holiday Survival Strategies with my private therapy clients during the holiday season, as they are simple and effective strategies to help people cope. I hope that my tips will help you make it through your holiday season in a way that is meaningful to you so you can enjoy your "self" as you are with others.

1. Breathe. In stressful situations, we typically hold our breath. It's an automatic response for us as people to hold our bodies in a locked position so as to try to brace ourselves to a stressor that presents itself. Not breathing, however, only deprives our body of the oxygen it needs to function at its' best. Without air, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions become overwhelming. When you breathe, you should breathe in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. If you follow this procedure for a few minutes, and you are consciously focusing on exactly what you are doing, you will be surprised how different you will feel. After just five minutes of good, focused breathing, my clients start to see the issues at hand differently and notice they feel stronger and more able to handle what comes their way.

2. Look on the bright side. Optimism helps. It counters depression, enhances our immune system, and keeps us healthy.

3. Set realistic expectations for your holiday season. Don't expect to see the classic Norman Rockwell painting reenacted at your dining room table. Families have issues, people have issues, and issues collide. The sister that you don't get along with isn't likely to change just because there's a Christmas tree in the corner. The mother who is constantly critical won't likely hold back her insults because Hanukah is here. So be realistic, have realistic expectations, and predict what may come so you will be prepared.

4. Enlist support. Keep friends numbers in your cell phone so you can grab some support when you are uncomfortable about where you are and you need to talk. Social support is of utmost importance during the holiday season. One of the great things about cell phones is that they make it easy to keep a "friend in your pocket". Ask your friends who will be available at times when you might need them. If you have a psychologist, ask whether he/she can be flexible with appointments over the holiday season with phone sessions. Having support available is a gift you can give to yourself this season.

5. Don't overexert yourself with commitments. Pick and choose the activities of which you will be a part and those activities you will decline politely. We are human beings who have limits, and obligations and parties at this time of year can become full-time jobs. Be careful to take enough time to relax and rejuvenate your energy supply: both physical and emotional. Stress that is prolonged and pervasive is damaging to our physical and mental selves.

6. Monitor and limit your consumption of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant-- and one that is very available during the holiday season. Alcohol's effects impact your mood, judgment, level of vulnerability to stress, and appearance. Monitor, and make sure you aren't drinking to avoid feelings you may need to come to understand.

7. Do something just for you and something for charity. It is true that when we give we truly do receive. Donate toys for tots, offer time at your local soup kitchen, and treat yourself to something you have wanted all year. That way, you not only are making our world a better place, but you are giving back to yourself. When we give back to ourselves, we are more able to be present for others. I do hope these tips help you to have a more wonderful holiday season. We all deserve joy.

With my warmest wishes,

Dr. Art Bowler
Psychologist