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15 December, 2021.

The Family Counseling Center recognizes that with the joy and celebration of the Holiday Season, so too comes a fair amount of stress and anxiety. Ashley Carl, the agency’s Crisis Clinic Supervisor has provided a few useful tips and techniques that can be employed by anyone feeling a moment of emotional strain.

1. If you know you are heading into a stressful family situation.

Family gatherings can be stressful; especially if you have negative family relationships or if family members have behaviors that can trigger your anxiety. Carl suggests several coping options when you know ahead of time that there will likely be a crisis point.

  • Set boundaries ahead of time with family. Let your family members know if there is a particular topic you are not comfortable discussing and practice ways of pivoting the conversation. One example is “I’m not comfortable discussing that, can we please focus on x, y, z?”
  • Set a timeline/timeframe for your visit. Let your family know that you can only stay for an hour or two hours and that you have to leave at a set time in order to visit other stops. Letting your family know that you are present for a set amount of time gives a clear exit and sets their expectations.
  • If a friend or your partner joins you, discuss with them ahead of time what are trigger points when with family and what they can do to help calm and center you.

2. If you are alone for the holidays or don’t spend the holidays with your family.

Some of us are spending the holidays alone: we may be avoiding large crowds due to COVID or be worried about conflict with family members because of opposing views on the virus. Others of us may be spending the holiday with friends rather than biological family members. Regardless of our situation, being alone in one way or another on the holiday can trigger depression and anxiety. Carl suggests practicing the following techniques:

  • Deep breathing. Take in a breath for three (3) seconds. Hold that breath for three (3) seconds. Release the breath for three (3) seconds. Repeat until you begin to feel calmer.
  • Focus on what and whom you have. Sometimes being the “black sheep” of the family isn’t a bad thing. You may feel closer and more connected to a “non-biological” family. Take a moment to think about the people you do have in your life. Ask yourself what makes them special and important to you. Concentrate on how their presence in your life makes you feel.

3. Practice grounding techniques.

Finally, Carl offers two grounding techniques – little exercises you can do without anyone else knowing but that help you feel centered and calm. “Grounding techniques help to bring a person back to the present moment and step away from the anxiety they are experiencing,” says Carl.

  • Focus on your five senses. Name five (5) things you see. Touch or feel four (4) things nearby. Listen and name three (3) things you can hear. Identify two (2) things you can smell. Finally, what is one (1) thing you can taste?
  • Muscle relaxation. Focus on points in your body, starting from your toes and working your way up to your head. Pick a place and tighten those muscles for five (5) seconds then release. Slowly work your way around your body. “We hold tension in places we don’t realize,” says Carl. “By tightening and then relaxing your muscles you begin to connect to the physical sensations connected to whatever emotion you are feeling.”