The holiday season is filled with expectations. Fueled by idyllic scenes depicted in movies and social media postings, our imaginations can run wild with ideas of how things should be. Annoyingly, how things should be is rarely how things actually are. Don’t stress if you feel that the holiday season has been, well, stressful. Everybody has a different capacity of how much environmental information and stimuli they can consume without becoming overstimulated.
Signs of Overstimulation
- restlessness, difficulty relaxing
- heightened startle response
- increased sense of agitation or fear
- persistent rumination
- mood swings (e.g. from irritability to tearfulness)
- withdrawal from social activities
- fatigue, apathy
There is certainly personal and societal pressure to “push through” these feelings of overstimulation. Remember this: once we reach our emotional capacity of how much we can successfully manage, we no longer become efficient at managing anything.
Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone and read on for tips on how to navigate specific seasonal scenarios while feeling overstimulated.
Holiday Triggers & How to Cope
Situation: Catching up with family and old friends
Overstimulated feeling: Feeling a mounting sense of dread at the thought of having to answer endless questions about your personal life.
How to Cope: Many people experience excessive worry and apprehension about embarrassed or looked down on in social interactions. Social anxiety is difficulty to deal with any time of year, but the never-ending list of social obligations during the holidays can make it seem unbearable. It might be tempting to engage in either avoidance or alcohol to help you get through these events, but there are other ways you can cope. Remember that nobody’s life is perfect and nobody expects yours to be either. Asking people questions about themselves, or finding a neutral topic of discussion, is a good way to shift the attention away from yourself when you start feeling uncomfortable.
Situation: Attending all the holiday events, putting out all the decorations, baking all the cookies—doing all the things.
Overstimulated feeling: Feeling too exhausted to get out of bed and guiltily thinking “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
How to Cope: Holiday burnout is real. Doing too much at once can leave you feeling physically, emotionally and mentally drained, making it difficult to do anything at all. Remember to practice self-care this time of year. Prioritize what needs to be done and don’t beat yourself up for not doing everything. Challenge yourself to get comfortable saying “I have done what I could. This is good enough”.
Situation: Telling yourself that this will be the year you will achieve your New Year’s Resolution of “becoming a better person”
Overstimulated feeling: Starting out strong before slowly slipping into your old ways by February
- How to Cope: New Year’s is an opportune time to make changes in your life, whether it be getting rid of a bad habit or adopting a healthy new one. Having lofty resolutions for self-improvement can set us up for disappointment, whether it be because the goals are too unrealistic or because achieving them does not make us as happy as we had expected. For this reason, it is a good idea to pick a small and specific goal and set your expectations by thinking about the challenges and set-backs you may encounter. For example, instead of deciding to “eat healthy” you can resolve to “eat less sugar” and then identify and be mindful of the specific instances that trigger you to reach for the dark chocolate.
General Tips for Overstimulation
When holiday stress begins to cause irritability, fatigue and discouragement, be mindful of those feelings and use that awareness to focus on the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can help you re-set your own expectations and utilize the necessary coping skills.
Here are some additional ways to practice mindfulness when stress levels trick you into thinking that “there’s no time” to rest.
- Acknowledge and observe your internal state by taking a moment to check in with yourself. ask yourself if you are experiencing the signs of being overstimulated.
- Tell yourself an encouraging message, such as “I can cope with this”.
- Set boundaries by saying “no” to obligations that will create excess stress.
- Seek out any possible ways to decrease exposure to environmental stimuli. For instance, remove yourself from places that are brightly lit, noisy or overcrowded. When feasible, take a break from “doing something” and engage in a less stimulating activity. Read. Listen to music.
- Once an overstimulating situation is over, take adequate time to rest and recharge. Remember, you will not be productive if you try to bravely “push through” exhaustion and sensory overload.
Now more than ever, you serve to be light in spirit and mind. Similar to how staying physically healthy can help you better fight off illness, strengthening coping skills and mental well-being will foster your ability to tolerate distress and persevere though challenging times.
If you feel that you need extra support, seeking mental health treatment can be immensely helpful in providing relief chronic feelings of emotional depletion .