ERP 088: How To Cope with Holiday Stress, Dread, and Blues [Transcript]

ERP 088: How To Cope With Holiday Stress, Dread, And Blues [Transcript]

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 88. If you are a new listener to this show, I wanna identify the main purpose of this podcast. In my mind, this podcast is very much a dialogue, a conversation with you; I bring principles, skills, practices, I bring on guests, I offer live coaching, I answer your questions – all with the intention of helping you become more aware of the complex terrain of intimacy, romantic lifelong partnership, marriage and lasting partnership… But more than anything wanting you to feel equipped, wanting you to feel your power, your empowerment to create the type of relationship you desire, to be intentional about that, to be mindful of it.

Often times the psychology of relationship is that it reflects back to us, it’s a mirror to us, showing us places that we need to grow in, or areas that we have been ignoring or not looking at, and maybe needs improvement. I’m wanting you guys and myself – I use myself as an example, I’m on this path with you – that we can grow in our skillfulness, in our awareness, in our practice, so we can become stronger, more confident and reap the rewards of a healthy, vibrant, connected, close relationship. That we can feel proud – not boastful, but feel grateful and touched and moved by the quality of our relationship; that it’s enriching, it’s deep, it’s authentic and it’s growthful – it lives and it breathes. So that’s the intention of this show – to really help guide you. I wanna help support you on this path that you’re on in your relationship, helping you cultivate the type of relationship you desire, as well as helping you grow individually, become a stronger, more whole more complete person.

So if you’re new to this show, welcome. If you’ve been listening for a while, I’m so grateful for your listenership. If you’ve reached out to me and given me feedback or wanted to get involved in some way, I also very much am grateful for your voice and your contribution.

If you hear something on today’s show or you have a thought, or have a topic and you wanna contribute to the conversation that’s happening on this show, I encourage you to reach out to me. You can find me on my website, which is, click on Contact and you can find the ways to reach me there. A couple pointers about if you wanna be on the show and receive live coaching, or if you wanna submit a question, or if you have inquiry about my coaching work or programs.

Today’s podcast episode is 88. It’s titled “How To Cope With Holiday Stress, Dread and Blues.” On today’s show I don’t know that I’m gonna say anything that’s new to you. I might offer an example or offer a slightly different perspective on something, but my thought is most of this you have heard before. I even contemplated, “Is this show really that important to put out?” The thought that I had in thinking about whether or not to do this show was how much we are inundated with imagery, whether or not we watch television and there’s commercials about the holiday season, and giving, and this connection and celebration and cheer… Or if we are getting invitations to holiday parties or we’re hearing our community friends, family talk about different events or things that we are planning ourselves.

So when I was thinking about this show and whether or not I should do it, I was like “Well, we’re constantly getting a lot of messaging around the holiday cheer.” We come across this every year, and it might be different year to year, depending on what’s going on for us. But the similar theme and the message around the expectation of holiday cheer is more or less consistent, so it can feel like pressure for some people that are going through a hard time, that have experienced some loss, or going through something that feels painful. Maybe it isn’t authentic to be super cheerful, or outgoing and social and connecting, or financially feeling stressed and not able to give in the way that they would really like.

There’s a lot of reasons, and I can talk a little bit more about what contributes to holiday stress, blues and sometimes dread of like “Gosh, here we go again!” My inner voice was like, “No, do it. Do this episode.” Even if you’ve heard this before, even if nothing I say today is new to you, I do think that it can help remind you, remind me of some of these ways to cope and deal with expectations, deal with the frenzy, deal with the stress. And even if you’ve heard it before, again, if we look at how many messages you’re getting every day about the expectation of holiday cheer, I think it’s okay to remind us over and over again to balance some of that messaging.

I wanna be a voice for how to take care of yourself in this holiday season, take care of you so that you can be more present in your relationship, in your life and the people you come into contact with. If you are feeling some level of stress, anxiety or angst, it’s very common. I dedicate this show to those of you that are not feeling it so much right now, not feeling the holiday cheer, and just to give space that that’s okay.

The other important thing to know here is that typically when people are stressed, they regress. They resort to bad habits, they resort to bad patterns. That could look like sugar cravings, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much caffeine… It could mean a lot of things, but we’ll maybe participate in behavior that doesn’t serve us, or habits that are depleting and drain us of that feeling of vitality. Today I have five points to share with you about how to cope with this holiday stress, dread and blues.

Number one – slow down. This is something we know and we are encouraged quite often – to breathe, the inhale and the exhale. It’s just amazing to me when I can remind myself to pause, and just how much I can feel myself calm down when I breathe, but also how much more aware and connected I feel. I’m not outside of myself thinking about next week or two weeks from now, or what happened last week. I’m in the moment, and I can feel the palpable experience of being present. I’m not distracted, I’m not disconnected from what is happening right now, which is life. Life is now. So if I’m preoccupied about the future or the past, I am not experiencing life, I am not connected to what’s happening in my actual life that I’m living.

Often, one of the things that I do to really reconnect is going to yoga. I go to a studio here in Santa Barbara, and I appreciate the physical practice that utilizes the breath and the mindfulness to tune inward, but I also like being in community, I like feeling leadership and guidance from an instructor that can really, again, remind me of things I know; nothing is new, I’ve been practicing yoga for years and years, maybe 14-15 years. It’s more of the practice and the experience, about giving myself that connection time, and how I’m a much better version of myself when I come from a grounded place, rather than distracted and preoccupied and anxious and stressed. I think that could probably be true for all of us.

The other thing that I noticed that happens for me when I’m stressed — if you’ve listened to my podcast before, you know that I play a lot of beach volleyball. In the last month I’ve tweaked my right shoulder, my hitting arm, so I still play, but I don’t use my hitting arm, I’m using my left arm. I’ve been going to physical therapy to just get some support on my healing, and a lot of it has to do with my posture, too. When I’m stressed, I tend to collapse, I slouch. I was talking to her about that today on my session, and she said “That’s classic.” When we’re stressed, we tend to collapse, and it’s like a protective, comfort posture, but it really takes us out of our strength, our stability and our real vitality, and our alignment in our muscles, in our breathing, in our circulation… I could go on and on probably about the negative impacts of stress and bad posture, so to speak… But I’m just personally sharing with you some of the things that help me really slow down.

Truth be told, I think we all set our own pace. We think life is happening to us, and the demands of the holiday season or expectations of loved ones or our kids, job responsibilities – you name it. We can feel victim to our schedule, yet at any moment we get to set the pace, we get to set the orientation of where we come from. If I can take a breath and slow down, and reset how I look at somebody, how I execute any task, I get to set my own pace… For me, I tend to be a little more excitable, so I kind of run at a little bit of a higher pace, so I have to actually remind myself in times like these to slow down over and over again.

The other thing that’s helpful in this number one point of slowing down is discerning how much you expose yourself to. The radio, the TV, the friends that might be in their own state of frenzy, or they’re venting or they have stressors, and how you can discern what you let in, and that you actually have some choice. I know when we’re driving we have a particular route we take to wherever we need to go throughout the day we might be bombarded with billboards and advertisements of different sorts. Again, your mind’s gonna naturally go to what is really bright and attractive, colorful, and it draws our attention. Yet, if we’re really trying to have discernment about what we’re exposing ourselves to – whether or not the type of music we listen to, the type of shows we’re watching, the commercials (do we turn those off?)… Most of the times my husband and I mute the commercial. Or people have DVRs – you fast forward through the commercials or pause.

So there’s some control of how much noise you’re letting in. I think particularly right now, I think we are impacted by one another, so it’s a nice thing to go into a yoga studio and be with other people that are intentionally trying to slow down, trying to ground. If I were to go to the mall, and maybe everybody’s kind of got their list, and they’re checking things off, and they’re kind of rushed in trying to get things done, it’s kind of easy to feel that energy and to kind of go with that, or to feel impacted by that. Again, creating some choice for yourself.

Don’t overbook yourself. That’s another way of having discernment about your pace. If you’re rushing from one event to the other, it’s very difficult to feel a sense of peace with that flow, with that schedule. Looking at things realistically, simplifying… I’ve had a few invitations already, a couple of which are from a dear friend of mine, and I was telling her, I was like “It actually hurts to say no to you, because I can actually feel the possibility of experiencing…” – she invited me on this trip and she’s got a friend’s wedding… Anyway, what she had planned was really great, I would have enjoyed it, and I really love her and would have enjoyed the time with her, so I could connect with the possibility of that. I felt excited, but yet I have travel plans the following week, I have a deadline for something I’m completing on a project, my husband and I are watching my best friend’s three children this weekend… There’s just a lot filling up my schedule, and I told her no. It was painful to say no, and there’s been a few things that I wanted to do, and just felt like it wouldn’t have been smart for me to do it.

I’m prioritizing my well-being as I say yes to things and as I say no to things. There is that strong part of me that’s definitely in my ear saying, “No, you can do it! You can rally! You can make it work!” While there might be some truth to that – at what cost? That’s this number one point of slowing down.

Number two – connect. I wanna encourage connecting with yourself first, and that might mean acknowledging feelings that don’t seem congruent with the season, or don’t feel the way you’re supposed to feel. Your inclination right now might be to force yourself to say “No, I’m good! Things are great! I’m happy!” just because it’s the holiday season, where maybe you’re feeling sadness, maybe you’re feeling grief. It’s okay to be honest and accepting of what’s real for you right now.

My husband and I just went to Austin, Texas for Thanksgiving last week, and if you’ve been listening to my show you hear me talk about in June – my father-in-law passed away, so my mother-in-law, this is her first holiday without him. She joined us in Austin, Texas. Without going into all the details, my husband’s from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and that’s where his mother lives. She’s got three of her children and their families, so most of his family lives in Minneapolis. His brother and his wife and two kids live in Austin, Texas, so we joined in Austin for Thanksgiving. And I think it was intentional on her part to not be in the place of all the familiarity, to do something different.

This is the first holiday in her whole life she’s ever spent outside of Minnesota, so it  was pretty significant for her. It was bittersweet… It was sweet to be together, to be with family, to be in connection, but there was also a lot of tearful moments. I remember one time we were sitting around the table and she had invited us to all share a positive memory, or our favorite memory, and there were a lot of tears expressed. So there’s a place for acknowledging feelings, and it can feel sad, or it can feel painful, but it’s important to give space to that and connect with that.

At the same time, give yourself an opportunity to reach out. If you’re feeling lonely, if you’re feeling isolated, reach out to your friends, community and maybe rally. Maybe if you’re feeling lonely or sad, or you’re not feeling all that attractive or loveable, and you get invited – instead of just shunning that, perhaps rallying and getting out there and taking a risk to show up and connect. Maybe look at people in the eye, maybe smile at someone. Again, in a moment, seeing what is available for you in your life.

I was in Austin airport last week and I was just taking a moment to kind of relax for a second and have some tea, and I was just watching people. There was a cleaning person emptying the trash. And she lifted the lid of the big trash can and it had fallen over. She had her gloves on and had a replacement bag; she was pulling out the trash that was in the bag and then replacing it with an empty bag. She dropped the lid on the floor, and this young man noticed it and he ran over and he picked it up, helped her and handed it to her. It was a small moment, but I was actually really touched that this young man with his bare hands – he didn’t have gloves on – picked up this dirty thing to try to help this person that’s cleaning, and went out of his way to help.

Again, it’s a small gesture, but the way that we can show up for each other, even a stranger – there is a moment of connection, there’s a shared moment there. My imagination is that both people in that interaction felt better. She might have thought, “Oh, that was really sweet” or “That was really nice of him. Wow, I matter. I’m just a cleaning person here, and here’s this person going out of his way to help me.” Maybe the young man thought about it or didn’t think about it, but he might have thought “Oh, that was good on me. That was a little bit of a nice gesture on my part.” And not in a boastful way, but that was a nice thing to do.

And me as an observer, I felt impacted by it in a positive way. Another common thing that we hear is the opportunity to volunteer. Again, I might be saying something you’ve heard quite often, yet it is amazing when we can be of service in some way, and be in community especially.

I remember the first (I think it was) Christmas that my husband and I had moved to Santa Barbara, and I think we were not traveling at that moment. I think we traveled for Thanksgiving, but decided not to for Christmas. I believe we woke up at 5 AM and had early shift, and it was this organic soup kitchen here in Santa Barbara, and they were to put on a huge dinner, and they had gifts, and it was for the veterans that had been displaced or homeless, and really provide a really beautiful experience for them. They all received gifts, gift cards, this wonderful meal, and got to be in community… My husband and I actually didn’t stay for the whole day, we just had our early shift – I think it was like three hours. We were cooking, cutting, preparing, and doing a lot of things to contribute to that day happening. It was a beautiful experience. My husband and I felt very grateful to have been able to do that, and it did take effort on our part obviously, and it was something that we both felt enriched by. We felt a sense of connection, felt like we did something that made a difference.

So in this number two point, to connect, it’s connect with yourself, and giving yourself validation for what’s honest and real, and also being available to connect with others, even if your family members, some of them might be extremely difficult. They might not be or show up the way you want them to, and it might be painful and disappointing at times, yet there is a place for even a period of time to just set that aside and just accept them, and accept the circumstances. I would choose for you to be different, I would choose differently for you, I would want our relationship to be different; I still perhaps wanna work and improve this, yet it is what it is right now, and can I just accept that and love you from afar, or love you in whatever place that we’re in right now. Because most likely, if you’re feeling the pain, they’re also feeling the pain and the stress, so just to offer some grace in that could be some feeling of connection, of what’s real. Connection’s not always in the beauty; connection is often in the pain and the vulnerability.

Number three – be and do you. I mean that in the sense of let yourself be you. There’s a little saying of “I’m doing me” or “You do you, I’m gonna do me.” It’s like “You do it your way, I’m gonna do it my way.” What if you gave yourself permission to do something different? How liberating and freeing that might feel, to cut through the expectations and the shackles, so to speak of things that you feel like you have to do?

I was talking with someone earlier today and she’s like, “Yeah, I’m not so much into buying gifts this year. I wanna do something like adopt a family”, and it feels difficult for her, because she’s trying to get her whole family on board.

I know one year my husband was telling me about something his family is to do, and they called it “Gifts from the heart.” It’s like Secret Santa, you choose one person – because they have a big family – and you make a gift for them, and that’s the gift exchange. It’s a gift from the heart, so it’s something you make or put together for someone, that person you chose.

In Austin, there are some small evergreen trees on the side of the road – I wish I remembered what road this was – and some people decorate a tree in honor of a past loved one. I think it was my sister-in-law’s idea, but my mother-in-law wanted to decorate a tree in honor of her late husband. So one morning when we were in Austin we all gathered around and drove to this spot, parked the car… It was actually a little more difficult because it was at quite an angle and it was loose gravel at the side of the road, and decorate this tree, but it was something really different that honored what was real. It was a little awkward – people were honking at us, some people were like “Clean it up!” and other people were honking in a positive way… It just was a different, new experience, but it felt important.

At the end of the trip we were reflecting on some of our highlights as a family, and that was the number one highlight for her, doing that tree, and how significant that was to her. I remember we were even contemplating if it was a good idea, because it’s on the side of the road, and “How attractive is that?” Yet, it was really special for her and for all of us.

In this number three, “be you, do you” – giving yourself permission to change it up, honor what you would really love or what you’re really feeling moved for, or what’s really authentic for you. Maybe instead of sharing gifts, you share photos or videos throughout the year.

Number four – take care. I’ve been speaking about this already in some ways, so this might sound a little repetitive, but I wanna just anchor this point in – really be gentle with yourself. This is the time where we will compare ourselves to others; it’s actually at the end of the year so we might be reflecting on the year, our mistakes, things we’re not proud of, where we expected ourselves to be and maybe where we’re not… So really turning that sense of gentleness, forgiveness and kindness to yourself. Many times we think about the holiday season as forgiveness, kindness, grace – really inviting some of that for yourself.

It might mean changing up your routine a little bit, turning off the television, maybe reading, maybe listening to music, taking a bath, going to yoga, taking a walk in nature… Whatever helps you feel your cup getting filled. Maybe it’s providing a little more of a plan for yourself; saying no to people, perhaps really creating a plan and a budget for your gifts… Maybe thinking about the people you love, and creating an opportunity to spend time together, even if you live at a distance. Maybe making a point to Skype and really sit down with one another. Or if you do a phone call, make sure for this particular time you don’t multitask. Maybe go on a walk together, but in some way be more present, so that you have that time together. It’s easy to rush and not drop into that place of connection.

Maybe be a little mindful of the drinks. Say, “Okay, I’m gonna cut it off at this amount” or “I’m not gonna have that second piece of dessert” or “I’m gonna get to bed a little earlier”, “I’m not gonna be on Facebook or social media.” Again, supporting yourself.

One of the things that I’ve been enjoying – silly enough, but it’s true… I have been making old-school hip-hop playlists. I don’t know, I think it was in yoga months ago I heard one of the instructors say listening to music from your youth activates the youth gene. So I was talking to my friend and I was like, “Oh yeah, I should listen to some hip-hop.” I definitely had a phase – it was like late ’80s, early ’90 hip-hop and it was more just music that was super fun to dance to… And I have been cutting a rug here and there, and it’s just silly; I haven’t done that in years. It’s a little playful, a little silly, but it’s been rejuvenating in some way. I share that with you, as it’s like a little fun thing – I take maybe five minutes, turn up the music and cut a rug and shake a leg for a minute. It helps me let some steam off, and helps me feel in my body, and feel some level of joy.

So whatever it is – maybe it is listening to some music from your youth, or maybe it is just giving yourself some time to take care of yourself, eat a nutritious meal, cut off the phone or the music or the iPad or the iPhone, and just let yourself go to bed earlier… Whatever it is, just really taking good care of yourself. Because really, no one’s gonna do that most likely, except for you. Again, you get to be in charge, you get to be the driver of your pace and of your well-being.

Number five, last point – take a breather. This is, again, in poignant moments throughout the day… Maybe it’s setting an alarm that reminds you at a particular time to maybe take 15 minutes; maybe go outside, even if it’s super chilly, but get some fresh air. Maybe if you’re the type of person that likes to engage, maybe you’re more of an extrovert and you like to be at holiday events or family gatherings, and you like to be in the flow of conversation… Maybe there’s some time where you can just pause, step out, maybe go to the bathroom and just take a few moments, or go outside and take a few moments, or maybe sit down and just let yourself relax and observe.

Whether or not that resonates with you, just giving yourself some time… Maybe this means back to point one, which is to slow down, or maybe it is point two, to connect, or maybe it is number three, to be you and do you. Really check in around what you would love, that’s maybe not what everybody else is doing. Maybe it is taking care of yourself, drinking more water rather than holiday beverages; perhaps giving yourself a gift this year. Scheduling a massage or treating yourself to something that would feel nurturing and restorative. Taking a breather, giving yourself a moment to just catch your breath, reconnect, pause and maybe do all of these steps.

Again, we’ll read them one more time:

1. Slow down.

2. Connect.

3. Be you and do you.

4. Take care.

5. Take a breather.

If you have something to add to this or contribute, you can always comment on the show notes, which can be found on my website, which, click on Podcast, scroll down to the bottom and you can find the section to comment. You can also e-mail me at, you can find me on social media. I would love to hear any other pointers or tips that you have on this topic.

More than anything, I just invite you to be mindful and to be intentional about what’s real for you and care for you, and also care for the connection and your life, whether or not that’s your significant other, your family or the people you would come into contact with.

I wish you well, and if you have any comments, questions or want to engage with me to deepen in your practice with these principles, you can always reach out to me for coaching or engaging in one of my programs. Again, you can find me on my website, which is  click on Contact and you can find all the ways to reach me there.

Thank you so much for listening, I appreciate your tuning in, taking time out of your life to share in this conversation together. Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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