Reducing Holiday Stress, part one (Episode 87)

If holidays are a major source of stress for you, it’s time to take a new approach to your holidays. You can reduce your stress by getting ahead of it. In part one on this topic, your host Kay Coughlin guides you through how to think through your holidays to identify the stressful situations that are specific to you.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Reducing Holiday Stress, Part One (Episode 87) 

You’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin. I’m a business coach and an advocate for people with family caregiver responsibilities. I’m a family caregiver for my mother too, and I just don’t believe that we caregivers have to put ourselves last. I believe that our families, government, and society in general, owe us a lot more help than we usually get. And I’m here to help you learn to speak up for yourself so you can live your own life again.

Well, hello there it is great to be back with you after taking this break between seasons of the podcast. It was a nice break, and I have to tell you, it didn’t feel like a break the whole time. Of course, I did work most of the time. I am a business coach and I can’t really take, you know, six or eight weeks off, at least not at this point in my business.

I did get to take a nice, quiet vacation with my husband. That was great. It was a week and we were in the Shenandoah National Parkway. If you’ve never been there, it’s absolutely gorgeous. But you know, I am a caregiver, and so that means that while we were away, I wasn’t really truly off duty the whole time. I had a lot of checking in to do with people. Nevertheless, it was really terrific.

But just in the past two weeks around my house here, it has just been one thing after another. My younger son is on crutches now. He’s going to be just fine, but that’s been crazy to help him get around and school buses and all of that stuff, and doctor appointments and everything that goes along with that. He also had an extra school activity that was just for a week while he was on crutches, so there was that extra logistical stuff that we had to try to figure out this whole time.

I got really sick with some kind of a respiratory crud. It is not covid. Thank goodness. I’m sure that you can still hear it in my voice. I actually lost my voice completely for two days. That was really hard. I’m still getting over that.

Let’s see what else went on in these two weeks? Oh, my mom had to have a couple of minor surgeries. She’s just fine. It was actually no big deal, but they still had to happen. We got all new windows in our house. My husband came down with this respiratory crud. He’s fine too. He didn’t get it as bad as I did.

And I’ve just been getting so many reminders from my life that I need to pace myself. That’s really hard to do. As I say, it actually was a really, really good break. I got a lot of space for my brain to just rest and also to think.

So I’m back with you today. I am at the tail end, though, of whatever this crud is that I got. I’m just going to give this recording a try. I’ve got my water here next to me. Thank you for bearing with me while I get through this. This is just a really important topic and I didn’t want to delay the start of the podcast season if I could possibly help it. So here I go.

Before I go any further into this topic, and this is about holidays and stress, I just want to give you a reminder here to take good care of yourself physically during the holidays, and during all times of stress that you could run into. Now, all the advice that you might hear from your doctor applies here. Okay? Eat nourishing food. Drink a lot of water.

If you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, that probably doesn’t help you with your stress. Get some exercise or at least move your body. If you’re not somebody who likes to exercise, get out and take some walks or do some yoga or whatever works for you. Get as much sleep as you can. Try to get a full night’s sleep. Try to sneak naps in when you can, and if you take any medications, whatever they’re for. Make sure that you continue to take those medications during times of stress.

Now, the reason that I want to say this here is that it’s pretty clear to me, and I think the science is really coming out about this, that our bodies and our minds are linked. They are not separate. So, when we take good care of our bodies, we also take good care of our minds, and that helps us to handle whatever stress comes up.

Just a side note here, there is a great podcast out of the UK that I’ve been listening to about the mind body connection. It is called “Made of Stronger Stuff.” I really can’t recommend it highly enough, and I will put a link to that podcast in the show notes.

The topic for today is, holiday stress and reducing that stress. And what I’m going to be talking about today is noticing what causes holiday stress for you specifically. This is important because what you find stressful is unique to you. It might be very different from what I find stressful.

Your stress, whatever causes you stress, is valid. I want to validate you the way you feel stressed, the situations you find stressful, those things are real for you. Okay? So I just want you to know that I believe you about whatever stresses you out, and I believe it’s probably going to be different from whatever causes me stress.

Today’s episode is part one on this. And then in part two, I will be helping you come up with actual words and phrases you can say to people to communicate what’s going on and what you need from them when those stressful situations happen. But today, I’m trying to keep it short because of my voice.

So part one. This is about noticing, identifying. You have to start by just thinking about your typical holidays and trying to figure out, really pinpoint what those rough spots are for you now, one of the ways you are going to be able to really recognize those tough situations. And identify them by the way you feel, and usually those are going to be emotions that are hard for you.

I’m sorry that that’s the way it is, but that’s the way it is. In case you haven’t listened to any of the podcast episodes where I talk about emotions, I don’t believe in good or bad emotions. I’m actually using air quotes around the words good and bad over here.

I really do believe that emotions themselves are neutral. And the only thing about emotions that makes them good or bad is what we do with them. Is how we react to them, how we handle them, the behaviors that we choose once we feel emotions, and that is what makes emotions a problem. So it is okay.

In this case, when I say think about your holidays, to pay attention to your emotions, the specific emotions that you have, and to feel anything at all. And I’m including the things that caregivers are told a lot that we shouldn’t feel. Like resentment and anxiety. I don’t know about you, but plenty of people have told me when I say I’m feeling anxious about something, they say, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel anxious.” Look friends. I don’t think that’s helpful. If you feel anxiety, feel anxiety. Anxiety in itself is just not a problem, and there’s a real bonus here.

These feelings, the ones that are hard for you, are actually helpful when you are trying to identify the situations that might come up that are going to be hard for you personally to handle.

So, when you think about your holidays, and I’m going to encourage you to pick, you know, probably just start with one. Maybe for you it’s Christmas dinner or some New Year’s Eve party, or, I mean, just pick whatever holiday celebration or situation that you want to. Just start with one. That’s going to be so much easier for you and more manageable if you just start with one.

What you’re going to find is that as you start to think about that and really recreate that event in your mind, or create it in your head so that you can identify these stressful situations. What’s going to happen is that your body is going to react to this thinking exercise with a very specific kind of stress that is actually called anticipatory stress. It is the stress of thinking about what’s coming up and what might happen. And this is totally normal, this kind of stress. This is just something that we do as humans.

Sometimes this anticipatory stress happens because you actually have past experiences that make you really think that an upcoming situation is going to be hard for you. And that’s why this is so important to know about that it comes up with holidays and family traditions, and anytime these gatherings are going to be happening or anything that’s traditional for you.

You have a lifetime of holiday experiences that your brain has to sort through and try to interpret for you, and so does everybody else. I mean, I have a lifetime of holiday experiences too.

Now what’s interesting to realize here when you think about anticipatory stress and the fact that what we’re doing is noticing these patterns based on our past experience, I want to say it’s not so much of a shock that a lot of people drink too much at holiday parties. Of course they drink too much at holiday parties. This kind of stress is very hard on us and drinking too much is a coping skill. Now, I’m not going to say that it’s a healthy coping skill, but it is a coping skill that we humans like to use.

Now, another way that this anticipatory stress might happen is when other people hype things up in advance. This is like if somebody in your family keeps warning you over and over again about this awful new lady that your uncle just married, and she’s going to show up at holidays and she’s going to ruin everything and you’re going to hate her. And you know you’re probably going to dread meeting her, because somebody has planted that thought in your brain and has tried to get you all worked up about it.

Now, I already said that your feelings, even the hard ones, maybe especially the hard ones, can be useful in helping see what the tough situations are going to be for you during your holidays. And in this case, I’m going to tell you that anticipatory stress is useful in exactly the same way.

Noticing when your body reacts to this anticipatory stress means that you can notice that. You can slow down. You can ask why that’s going on and you can identify the situations that are causing that stress. You can identify the patterns. You can maybe make some notes about it. You could talk to your therapist about it. Okay?

So this is a way that anticipatory stress is actually helpful. That’s what’s going on with at least some of your holiday stress.

And now I’m going to sort of segue here into part two, which isn’t coming up for another two weeks. But we’re going to talk about how to really take care of yourself, when these things that you already know are going to be hard, when they actually do come up.

And so we have to talk about boundaries. I’ve got a two part definition for boundaries. Okay. The first part of this definition is noticing what you want and don’t want, and what you like and don’t like, and making some decisions in advance about what you are going to do if and when those things happen.

So boundaries are about you and your behavior. Boundaries are not about controlling other people. I know that’s hard, but it’s really important to remember that when you’re talking about boundaries, you are only talking about your own behavior. Okay? So, part one is making some decisions about what you’re going to do when things that you don’t like happen around you.

The second part of the definition, and I wish I could change this for you, but I can’t, this is the reality of boundaries, is telling people about your boundaries when that’s necessary. Okay? So it’s communicating about your boundaries to other people. And yes, I do know how hard that is. I’m, I’m human too. This is hard for me too.

So that is what part two of this topic is going to be all about, and that’s how to tell people. In that episode, I am going to talk about how much relief it can give you to write short scripts for yourself in advance so that you can have something to say when those hard situations happen. And I’m actually going to give you some sample scripts that I use, that I’ve written for myself, that I’ve helped other clients write. So we’ll talk about the situation and we’ll talk about things that you might say to communicate your boundary if you don’t want to be in that situation anymore.

And that is coming up in two weeks. Now, why is that coming up in two weeks? Because next week I am talking on the podcast to Cathy Sikorski. You do not want to miss this conversation. Cathy is an Elder Lawyer and she’s a really fantastic author. She has been a family caregiver for 30 years. I kid you not. She has helped eight different relatives and friends during her years as a caregiver. She’s an amazing person. I know you will love hearing her talk and what she has to say. She’s just got such a heart for helping caregivers care for themselves in ways that are really manageable and really, really smart. So I am looking forward to seeing you back here again next week for that conversation with Cathy Sikorski.

Thanks for being with me here today. You can find out more about all of this work at Facilitator On Fire dot net. That’s Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you’d like to be less lonely and get some personalized help too, go check out the membership, which is called the From One Caregiver to Another Cafe, and you’ll find that at Facilitator on It’s the place for caregivers to find non-judgmental community – I know that’s really important – and to safely explore what it could be like to put your own life back into your life. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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