14 Dec 2021
How to Manage Holiday Stress

The holidays are an ambivalent period for most people, a time for celebration but also for more complicated feelings. We’re here to help you through the challenges this time of year brings. Read recommendations for ways to cope, whether it’s dealing with difficult relatives or avoiding burnout from all the holiday to-dos.

“The combination of trying to be mom, navigate family relationships, and get through the pandemic makes this year particularly challenging,” says WCWCW Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Alexis Wesley. “But, as we come to the end of 2021, this also marks a time to take stock of what you have to be grateful for and enjoy this time with your loved ones.”


Know your risk tolerance

With vaccinations available for children five and over, many of us have made plans to gather with loved ones this year, but news of the Covid-19 Omicron variant has put some of us back into a state of confusion. Until more detailed information is available, it’s especially important to pre-establish the level of risk you and your family can tolerate this year. Do you want to gather only with people who are vaccinated? Should everyone be tested prior to your gathering? Is it important that your children are vaccinated before they see people outside your household? Do you need a booster? Plan ahead by answering these questions for yourself and your family and then hold tight to your plans.


Plan for travel hiccups

If you anticipate that your travel plans might be thrown for a loop, you’ll be less likely to get frustrated if they do, and pleasantly surprised if they don’t. This year, definitely plan for delays and crowds as well as complications from the new variant. If traveling feels too complicated or unsafe, remember it’s okay to decline an invitation and instead enjoy a simpler holiday season at home.


Head off family fault lines

This time of year often brings family baggage to the surface and triggers old issues. Keep in mind a holiday gathering is generally not a good place to hash out past disagreements or political debates. (Difficult conversations are best saved for one-on-ones and planned in advance).

“You’re not going to come to an agreement over the holiday dinner,” WCWCW’s Founder and Director Dr. Wendy Hookman says. “Usually people just leave feeling a mixture of anger and guilt.”

Suggest ground rules for dinner, such as not talking about divisive topics, like politics, religion, or even vaccines, if you know it’ll be problematic. If this isn’t possible, set boundaries for yourself going into a gathering. If an aggressive relative tries to goad you into a conversation you don’t want to have, state your boundary. For example: “I prefer not to talk about politics at family events.” Identify potential trigger people who you may want to avoid talking to for too long—such as a mother-in-law who always comments on people’s weight, or an uncle who loves to ask about money.

You can even have a few conversation starters handy to steer people to other topics, like asking what everyone’s thankful for this year or if they had a favorite movie of 2021.

Finally, suggest activities that get you moving, like taking a walk after your meal, playing a group sport, or cooking.

“After dinners, my family has a tradition of taking a walk. Physical activity like this diffuses the stress and tension and gets everyone out,” says Dr. Hookman.


Reduce invisible labor

For moms, the holiday season is hardly a vacation, with the kids home from school for break, travel, hosting, and gift giving. A partner who isn’t pitching in to help only adds to the stress. Instead of becoming inwardly resentful, use this time off as an opportunity to get your partner—and children—involved in holiday preparations. Be specific about assigning tasks, such as “set the table,” or “put away Christmas ornaments.”

You can even do chores as a family. “It can be a quality family moment. Doing dishes or packing together is a lot more fun than when one person does these tasks alone,” Dr. Hookman says.

If you’re hosting a holiday event, enlist your guests to help pitch in. Recruit a particularly helpful guest to model gracious behavior, like table setting and drink pouring, and others will be encouraged to follow suit.


Don’t forget about yourself

When you’re running around trying to check everything off the list, it’s easy to go on auto-pilot and lose sight of your own needs. Take time to check in with yourself. Practice self-care. If you are stuck in a mental checklist loop noting everything you still need to do or where you’ve fallen short, counter that by reminding yourself how much you’ve already finished.

“We tend to fall into a cycle of noticing everything we’re not accomplishing, like not getting cards out earlier enough, or forgetting to pack the kids’ toothbrushes,” says Dr. Wesley. “Often people get lost in these little things. No one will remember if a card comes in the mail a little late. You can always buy toothbrushes. Appreciating all you’re accomplishing helps you take a step back and reframe thinking that is too hard on yourself.”

If things are feeling too difficult, lower your expectations for yourself. Remember, this is still a very challenging time, and you’re probably doing more than usual to plan because of the pandemic.

“Keep things simpler, if you need to, and utilize your support system,” says Dr. Wesley. “You don’t have to be Super Mom.”


Get help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and feel you need help getting through this period, to learn more about our mental health services, or to make an appointment, contact us at WCWCW.

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06 Jul 2021
How to Adapt to the “New Normal”

With re-openings and loosened mask restrictions, many patients have told us they have mixed feelings about going back into the world again. There is also some embarrassment about admitting this. Shouldn’t I want to see my friends and extended families, send my kids to school and camp, and get back to “normal,” people have asked? This article will help you understand why you may be feeling ambivalent and even anxious about reopening, and how to navigate this transitional time.

Why you’re feeling ambivalent about reopening

We lived through a collective trauma this past year, having experienced death and illness on a mass scale, economic instability, disruption of our day-to-day lives, deep political divisions, and the important but difficult work of confronting racial injustice in our society. If you’re feeling some level of anxiety, fear or vulnerability, that’s a normal response to trauma.

Additionally, there’s nervousness around navigating social situations, particularly because children under 12 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Some parents have shared that they feel kids are being forgotten with the loosening of restrictions. Politicization around mask-wearing and vaccination may add a layer of discomfort about socializing with people who have different views than you.

Finally, although the past year was incredibly difficult, there were silver linings for some, such as more time with family, less commuting, and a calmer schedule. Plus, it’s normal for humans to adjust to routines, and to fear change, even good change. “Anytime we go through trauma or transition in our lives, says Dr. Wendy Hookman, founder and medical director of Washington Center for Women & Children’s Wellness we emerge into a ‘new normal’ where life feels somewhat familiar but also very different at the same time. The good news is that going through times like this builds resilience which is one of the most important contributors to lifelong mental health and stability.”

How to make the “New Normal” easier on yourself

• Practice self-compassion. First, take time to check in with yourself about your concerns and know that whatever they are, they are valid. This is a great opportunity to practice self-compassion and to recognize and accept, rather than judge, the feelings you’re having, and to be as understanding of yourself as you would of a friend.

• Reframe your thoughts. In our practice, we use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques in which we help patients recognize and then reframe distressing thoughts. “One way to reframe the thought that there’s something wrong with you for not being more energized about the new normal is to appreciate that you and your family got through what was an incredibly difficult year. This is a major achievement!” Dr. Wendy Hookman says.

• Communicate about vaccination and masks. Be polite but straightforward about what you’re comfortable with. A diplomatic way to find out someone’s vaccine status is to disclose your own status ahead of seeing them. This invites them to say whether they’re vaccinated. If you go over to someone’s home, bring a mask along and ask whether your hosts would like you to put it on. If they have kids under 12, err on the side of wearing a mask.

• Stay informed. What we know about COVID-19 has changed over the last year. Keeping up-to-date with science can help you manage your comfort level. For example, we now know the virus is rarely transmitted outdoors and that mask wearing significantly limits transmission.

• Don’t feel pressure to over-schedule. If the speed at which you were operating pre-pandemic seems unsustainable, don’t feel like you have to go back to 100 percent. If you enjoyed the slower pace of the past year, try to retain some of that in your life going forward. “Even if it looks like others are going full speed ahead, remember that you are not required to over-schedule yourself or your family,” says Dr. Hookman.

• Make time for self-care. To avoid burn-out, make time for self-care, such as meditation, exercise, taking breaks from your computer and phone, and getting rest.

• Remember that you’re not alone. It’s easy to feel like you’re struggling more than those around you, particularly on social media. While it may look like everyone is thriving, what you see online is a highlight reel, not reality. Many, if not most people are finding this period challenging. Transitions always are, and people handle them in different ways. What we can do is be patient with ourselves and where we’re at.

Seek help if you need it

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of the “new normal” and it’s affecting your ability to function in your day-to-day life, consider seeking professional help. Learn more about our team and our services here at Washington Center for Women’s and Children’s Wellness.

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