Holidays are a time for family, for celebration, and for increased stress and anxiety! The increase in family togetherness can bring a lot of joy, and it can also be a very difficult time, especially if you have been struggling with issues and have been identified as the “patient” in the family. All of the extra pairs of eyes, the questions of how you’re doing, and the increase in support, while well-intentioned, can actually increase stress and anxiety in the moment.

So, how can you effectively cope with increases in stress, anxiety, and/or cravings this holiday season? Below are a few coping skills that we really like and recommend using. They are not meant to make all of the difficulties go away (no coping skill can do that!), they are meant to help reduce them to something that feels manageable. The skills are split up between coping skills you do externally (something that you go and “do”) and coping skills that you do internally (you don’t have to go anything, they are more things you can do without others noticing).

External Coping Skills:

These are skills that you “do.” They are activities. In order to do these, you need to make sure that you have enough time, and ability to do them (for example, you need to make sure that you can afford it if it costs money, or that it’s available when you want to do it). Often, this requires some advanced planning, so beware!

  • Go for a run.
    Running can be a very cathartic act. You can run hard, or jog slowly. You can do it at your own pace. The exercise releases endorphins, which helps to feel better, and can even help with cravings (see this article for evidence). And if running is too much, go for a walk!
  • Volunteer.
    Spending a little time giving back to others can really help get your mind off of whatever is bugging you in the moment. Not only is volunteering a nice thing to do that help you feel better, its an activity that is widely accepted by other family members, so there will probably be very little resistance to you taking some time to do it!
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
     Hot baths and showers can not only take you out of a difficult situation, but they can also help you to relax your muscles, slow your self down, and help to soothe you in a difficult situation.
  • Listen to relaxing or uplifting music.
     Music can be a powerful friend when you want to shift your emotions! It can also conspire with your emotional self if not used wisely. Pick music that evokes the emotion that you want to feel (i.e., if you want to feel happy, pick happy music, if you want to feel relaxed, pick relaxing music), even if you don’t feel that in the moment. Choosing music that mimics how you feel in the moment may actually exacerbate that feeling, instead of helping you to feel something different. The same thing goes for watching movies (watch a funny movie when you’re feeling down, or an exciting movie if you’re feeling lethargic).
  • Compile links to hilarious YouTube videos.
     Funny videos have a way of changing your mood! Look at them for 10 minutes if you’re starting to get a little tight in the chest with family tension. **This will be different for different people: some people think cats walking funny is hilarious, others want to see cars driving off cliffs. Pick what’s funny to you!
  • Talk to a friend!
     On the phone or in person, talking to a friend is a good way to help keep from sinking deeper into distress. This is always harder to do at the time you’re sinking, but REALLY helpful to push through and just make that call…hearing another friendly, sympathetic voice can shift everything.
     (Extra Credit Tip: it is best to think about who these people could be ahead of time and have them on speed-dial!)

Internal Coping Skills:

These coping skills do not require you to go anywhere or “do” anything (at least that anyone else can see). They are all done in your head, and can be done when you can’t “get away” or don’t have the time to do something else.

  • Count backwards from 100 by 7’s.
    This mental task is just difficult enough to take up your brain’s mental capacity, but not so difficult that you can’t do it. The beauty of it is that when you’re stuck on a thought (like how annoying your family is being, or how much you want a drink), it takes your mind off of that completely and gives you a little space to let that feeling shrink down some. And, no one needs to know you’re doing it. Math whiz? Try figuring out square roots of numbers instead!
  • Think of all of the lyrics to a song.
    Again, this task uses up just enough brain space to help shift your attention from something that is very bothersome to something that is neutral or better. Just like with the music suggestion above, try to pick a song that evokes the feelings you want to feel, not one that exacerbates what you are feeling.
  • Visualization.
    Sometimes, when you’re in a situation that isn’t great, the best thing you can do is imagine a situation that is better! Picture yourself someplace that feels good, or at least feels relatively neutral. Try to really picture yourself being there. Imagine the smells, the sounds, who you’re with, what you’re doing. Sometimes the best escape is one that happens in your mind!
  • Think of all the reasons your closest friends value you and why you value them.
    In particular, think about what qualities they appreciate about you (you are a good listener, funny etc) and about what qualities you appreciate about them. This list should be things you truly believe they value, so that the list will hold up even when you’re feeling down on yourself.

These are just a few coping skills that can be helpful. The best thing to do is to practice these before the big holiday party, when you’re not too stressed out, so that you know what to do and what works best for you when you really need it. If you have other holiday coping skills, put them in the comments below!

Originally published at on December 4, 2012.

Originally published at