Helping Patients Thrive This Holiday Season

Are your patients feeling stressed out? Here are 10 tips to share with them for a less stressful holiday season.

From seasonal affective disorder to 24/7 contact with visiting family to finding the perfect gifts, the holidays can be a minefield of stressful situations for patients! The following are 10 tips to share with patients so they not only survive the holidays, but remember to thrive during this hectic time.

1) Be open

For patients to get the most out of their interactions with family this year, encourage them to share specific stories from their lives. For instance, advise them that instead of saying, “life is good,” patients should tell family and friends about how a walk in the snow reminded them of peace and beauty, or how they felt relief after finding a meaningful gift for their partner after weeks of searching. Encourage them to use emotional words to help them tune into what is going on in their world and to build connections.

2) Involve people

Post-pandemic interactions can be difficult and maybe even awkward, especially for patients with social anxiety disorder. Have your patient think of someone with whom they want to connect, and then reach out to that person to ask for advice: perhaps about cooking, ideas for gifts, outfits for certain occasions, etc. The next step for your patient is for them to bring their advisor along on the journey with follow-up conversations. Have your patient tell their advisors how the cooking experiment went, what the gift recipients thought, how the outfit looked, etc.

3) Listen to others

Help patients truly connect with others by giving their full attention and engaging. Have them ask specific questions. For instance, encourage patients to use open-ended questions such as “how do you decide what to buy people for gifts?” Or even something silly like “what do you think about the new Starbucks Christmas cup patterns? Which is your favorite?” Show them how asking specific open-ended questions is better than asking “how’s it going?” A quick internet search for “open-ended conversation starters” might be helpful for them.

4) Parallel play

If patients need a break from family, yet have nowhere to take such a break, encourage them to engage in “parallel play.” Parallel play is commonly employed when children engage in activities near each other, but not in direct contact or with each other, and this strategy can also be used by adults. An example might be reading a book in the kitchen while their family member is cooking. Advise patients that spending time with family can be a balance of direct interaction and parallel play to help patients limit social burnout. Read more about different types of play here.

5) Lower your vulnerability factors

Do some of your patients tend to get into difficult situations more when they have had some drinks? Are tired? Have not exercised? Are hungry? Ask patients to think about these vulnerability factors and how they can do their best to mitigate them. By considering these factors, patients will be set up for success and be able to handle situations more peacefully and with ease. Read more about vulnerability factors here.

6) Plan time for self-care

After patients have taken time to mitigate vulnerability factors, ask them what they can do to add strengthening factors to their holiday plans. Have patients think about what they can realistically take care of themselves when their regular schedule is not in effect, and then choose to do a meditation challenge, go for a walk a few times per week, or something similar. Advise them to pick something easy that they know they can achieve.

7) Plan for validation

Sometimes it is difficult, or impossible, for individuals to understand a perspective or feeling that differs from their own, and patients may be especially reminded of this during the holidays. If patients are interacting with people who are not able or willing to listen to, understand, or validate their feelings, advise them to plan to satiate those needs elsewhere by talking to you, a friend, or a family member who will validate. Remind patients that writing in a journal may be useful.

8) Give yourself credit for the small things

When life is stressful, even the little things can be difficult, particularly for patients with anxiety and stress disorders. Encourage patients to take time to personally acknowledge themselves for all the things they have accomplished, no matter how big or small. Tell them that this is a self-gratitude practice, and it can change their outlook immensely and help them build self-esteem.

9)Plan some real vacation time in the future

The December holiday season might present with time off work, but is it really rest for a lot of patients? Encourage patients to plan a vacation for January or February: a short weekend getaway, or a staycation in bed with some good TV shows. Knowing there is time to actually relax right around the corner can help patients get through the hustle and bustle of December.

10) Focus on what you can control

Remind patients that they cannot control if their flight home is delayed, or if their family members hound them about their love life. When patients feel like so many things in life are up in the air, advise them to focus on what they can control: their reaction and their attitude. A good example of this is Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD, whose discussion on how he believes his attitude helped him survive concentration camps during World War II appears in Man’s Search For Meaning.

Ms Prevost is an author, counsellor, and teacher. Her book, The Conversation Guide: How to Communicate, Set Boundaries, and Be Understood, can be found at www.TheConversationGuide.com.