7 Tips For Handling Holiday Stress (Without Reaching For The Booze)

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This has been a tough year for many. I don't know enough about the placement of the stars to understand whether there is a cosmic reason, but many of us have struggled this year.

As a coach who works with successful women who struggle with their relationships with alcohol, I have seen my clients have an especially difficult time coping with the stress of the year. Since many of them are sensitive, highly emotional, and/or empathic, they feel the pain of those around them, too.

I've seen a proliferation of memes and posts all over the internet bemoaning 2016 and wishing it over, many of which jokingly suggest using alcohol to cope. Maybe I'm just more attuned to it now. I'm not sure the data would prove there were more people drinking to escape this year than in 2015, but it feels that way to me.

Nothing feels better with a hangover. You and I both know that.

While the holidays bring joy to many, they can also trigger unhealthy coping behaviors. Many of my clients feel increased anxiety during this time of year, and we spend a lot of time preparing and creating a new blueprint for "being" through the holidays.

Turning to alcohol doesn't really solve anything, does it? It's a temporary fix. It brings quick relief but doesn't last. You're not dealing with the things that are causing your anxiety, so it's just being shoved into a corner where you don't notice it for a while. These nagging worries or self-doubts will just resurface when the buzz wears off, and we'll feel particularly overwhelmed or triggered. Drinking negatively affects our mental acuity and sleep, and it can make us feel sluggish, anxious, or short-tempered in the morning.

The effort to pull it together for our families, partners, and jobs is even harder, which drains us and makes us crave alcohol again. And the cycle continues.

One client told me she'd been numbing her pain for so long that it started to escape as rage when she got cut off in traffic or when she couldn't return something to a department store.

Emotional pain that you refuse to deal with can also manifest as physical discomfort: headaches, inflammation, indigestion, and more.

Not messing with your delicate internal balance of hormones and natural feel-good chemicals will help you ride the waves of emotion you get.

Nothing feels better with a hangover. You and I both know that.

So do yourself the most loving favor. Don't use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Now, this doesn't mean you need to stop drinking altogether. This is about finding healthier ways to deal with your feelings. Here's how to get started.

1. Set clear intentions.

Devote time every day to journaling about what making this change will really mean for you. Instead of focusing on the negative, i.e., "I don't want to be hungover anymore, I don't want to feel like crap, I hate being low energy or unfocused," frame your statement as an affirmation.

  • "I am strong. I'm capable of handling all the feelings."
  • "I deserve to be healthy, happy, and whole."
  • "I continue to explore authentic stress relief and am able to sleep peacefully and restfully."
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2. Take time to truly be by yourself.

When avoiding feelings or trying to numb out, it can be tempting to fill our time with tasks, activities, and other people. However, this can compound underlying anxiety. It's another tactic for avoidance. It's a way to avoid dealing with what's under the surface. Make sure to schedule (yes, schedule) daily time for yourself from now until the end of the year. Even (and especially) during the holidays, it's important to reconnect with yourself. Grab 10 to 15 minutes to lie down, listen to some meditation or chakra-balancing music, or get into nature. If you haven't spent time by yourself for a while, don't be surprised if intense emotions surface.

3. Find an alternative to booze that you can get excited about.

Deprivation sucks. That's why really restrictive diets often don't work, and promises to quit alcohol cold turkey often fall short. We are pleasure-based creatures, after all. Have fun exploring tea or seltzer offerings, and come up with some creative concoctions. There's no reason you can't bust out the fancy stemware for a mocktail. Same goes for a dinner out. Peruse the cocktail menu and ask your server or bartender which can be made non-alcoholic, or craft your own mocktail using ingredients you see on their menu. During the holiday season, task yourself with bringing an alcohol-free beverage to parties and wowing the crowd with how tasty it is.

4. Create new rituals.

Did you know that floral scents connect us to earth energy and stimulate the limbic system, resulting in a pleasurable, calm feeling? Put a few drops of lavender, rose, geranium, or orange blossom oil into your palms, rub your hands together, cup them, and inhale deeply. Place blends of scents you find relaxing into a diffuser and light aromatherapy candles. Dance. Have a bath. Watch a silly video. Belly laugh. Roll around on the floor and try some sensual stretching. Lie on your back and practice deep breathing. The point is to find what works for you! Play around. You may need a combination of techniques to overpower the urge for wine. But don't you owe it to yourself to try?

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5. Find an accountability buddy.

There's no reason this topic should be shameful or shrouded in secrecy. If you already have a best friend or someone else who supports you, talk to them about it. Let them know this is an area of your life that you want to change, and tell them how they can support you.

6. Learn and live by the mantra, "Peace begins with me."

This can be done anywhere, including at the dinner table during holiday meals and at family gatherings. You can say the mantra aloud or silently to yourself. Touch your index finger to the thumb of the same hand and say the word "peace," then switch, touching your middle finger to your thumb and say, "begins." Continue down the line, touching your ring finger with your thumb and say, "with." Touch your pinkie finger to your thumb and say, "me."

7. Celebrate your successes.

It is scary to open yourself up to feeling pain and to stop numbing uncomfortable emotions. It's easy to start criticizing yourself, and that leads to a feeling of defeat. This is why it is critical to spend time celebrating yourself. This is a great time to reflect on your accomplishments, what you've overcome, how you've triumphed over adversity, and the changes you've made in the past year. There is no success unworthy of celebration. We are so good at being critical of ourselves. It's absolutely crucial to spend time acknowledging our successes.

Finally, do what you can to remind yourself that you are in control, and you can handle this. You can ride the waves of emotions, and you will come out the other side stronger and more self-aware. Cheers to that.

Download my free video series on how to break any numbing-out habit here.

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