The holidays are quickly approaching, and stress levels are getting higher as parents begin buying gifts, families are getting ready to host parties, and travel plans are being made to spend time with relatives. I talked to Laura Meemken, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Solutions Counseling, about the differences between stress and anxiety and how to survive and thrive during the holiday season’s sometimes “trying” times.
First off, stress and anxiety are the same thing, right?
Surprisingly, no; they are used interchangeably in society, but they are actually different. Stress is a reaction to daily pressures. It is caused by an existing and identifiable stressor. Anxiety, on the other hand, is one of the possible negative reactions to stress during which there is sense of fear and apprehension for what lies ahead. Anxiety may not have an identifiable root and it may continue after the stressor is gone.
When is it appropriate to seek help from someone like you?
Someone might seek help from me if they are experiencing anxiety symptoms AND the symptoms are causing “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic, or other important areas of functioning.” For example, a person who becomes so “nervous” before social interactions that they have developed a pattern of cancelling plans with friends. Or a person having difficulty completing simple tasks at work due to worries about things that might happen if they make a mistake. Or a person snapping at family members because they are “keyed up” or “on edge” often after work. These are just a few examples of how anxiety might interfere with someone’s life and when they might come in for help.
What are some ways to help myself and my family be prepared for the holiday season so that we aren’t as stressed?
Do less and enjoy more! Often times our fondest memories of the holiday season are less about the number of gifts, or how many different kinds of cookies we brought to the cookie exchange, or how many parties we attended, but more about the special moments we shared with people we love. I would recommend thinking about this, and having a family conversation about this well before getting into the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Have a conversation about what types of moments you are hoping for and what holiday traditions you cherish. Talk about what things/events/expectations that might be healthy to let go. Agree to a plan and encourage one another to stay on track versus being tempted to resort to the pressures you may have given into in the past. Most importantly, be fully present in the moments you cherish most with your family.
It feels like the stress is inevitable; what do I do when it’s too much?
Incorporate mindfulness or relaxation into your routine. Focus on deep breathing and relaxing your muscles. Do your best to quiet your busy mind and use your senses to focus on the present moment. Also remember, that the way you think will impact how you feel. If your thoughts are saturated with worry, “I have to do…I can’t forget…I shouldn’t have done…what if I don’t…,” then you will feel stressed and/or anxious.
If you intentionally turn your mind toward a more peaceful and positive approach…”I want to…I’ll do my best…I’ll do what I can…everything is going to be okay…,” a calmer emotional state will follow.
Laura Meemken, MA, LMFT is a licensed individual, couples and family therapist at Solutions Counseling Services in St. Michael, MN. She provides a comfortable and accepting environment where children, adolescents and adults are safe to explore life challenges. Laura believes in a balanced approach in therapy and life and supports clients in finding a healthy medium between acceptance and change. She works from a client-centered, family-driven perspective, meaning the client is empowered to take the lead in their treatment. Laura is trained in providing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and utilizes play and art therapy techniques with children and teens. Areas of particular interest include working with adolescents and adults on issues related to depression, anxiety, difficulty managing emotions, disordered eating, low self-esteem, parenting concerns and family conflict, and substance use and co-dependency in families.