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Navigating stress and anxiety during the holidays, and supporting your body during the shorter and colder winter days.
As a wellness company, mental wellness is more than a priority for us; it's essential. That's why we're offering you this series on mental wellness during the holiday season. In this interview, we spoke with Kim Egel about navigating heightened stress and anxiety during the holidays, seasonal and environmental shifts that affect mental health, and how to support loved ones during this time of year.
Kim has been a licensed Marriage Family Therapist for over 10 years, and her private practice is based around the principles of authentic truth and overall wellness. You can find more of her expertise here. We are honored to share her knowledge with you this holiday season!
Generally speaking, more stress and anxiety generally produces more mindlessness, less joy, more busyness, less intentional thinking, less prioritizing of what’s important. All these behaviors work against us to feel our best and chip away at our overall happiness.
One cause is the belief that you are lacking “the things” to be happy; the family that you desire, the mother you wish you had, the partner you wish you had, the reality you wish you had, the means you wish you had. Strained relationships with family and friends also tend to be highlighted during this time, which leads to more focus on the relationships that are difficult or different from expected societal norms. Another cause of heightened stress is over-committing, which causes you to feel like there’s “not enough time” to do it all and often leads to the tendency to say yes because you feel like you “should.” This all leads to feelings of shame and “not being enough,” and causes mental and physical exhaustion. During the holiday season, there are generally more events to attend, and the pressure to buy more things and spend more of your time on holiday "preparations," on top of all the “normal” everyday to-do’s.
Seek support from the important people in your life. Confide in one or two trustworthy friends about how you’re feeling and express your difficult feelings. Just letting someone know what you are experiencing can help you feel less alone and more connected. Another way to navigate this is by volunteering and focusing on giving back to others. This can put your situation into perspective and help you see a “bigger picture.” Recreate what this time of year holds for you. Create your own traditions around this time of year that don’t have to fit into a box. Seek activities and do things with your time that you truly enjoy, whether it’s “holiday like” or not. Rather than putting pressure on specific holiday traditions, start traditions with friends that are not “typical holiday traditions,” like planning an overnight trip or game night. By planning this in advance, it gives you something to look forward to during the holiday time.
Please remember that holding a listening ear is doing so much to support a friend in need. True authentic listening and caring is so healing within itself. Remember that when you are really listening, you don’t have to script the conversation. Rather than thinking about what you need to say in response, practice active listening and focus on being present and fully listening to what your friend is saying. It is also important to note that when listening and “being there” for a friend exceeds the healthy limits of a friendship, it’s time to support your friend without taking on their emotional issues. You have to tend to your own emotional and mental health first, so that you can fully hold space for your friends. Referring them to a professional who can help is an option when a friend's mental health needs exceed more than what a friendship can and should offer. Including a friend in activities and inviting them to gatherings that could be an opportunity to have fun and connect is another way to support.
Following the Circadian rhythm around this time of year can be helpful. Allow your body to reset by shifting to a slower pace, mimicking the rhythm of nature. Think about the concept of balance and how ebb and flow can be used "for" you vs. "against” you. Going with what is happening (darker earlier, colder temperatures) vs. fighting against it can be the first step. It’s important to accept that during this time of year, there are different activities/hobbies to pursue involvement in, which require a gentler level of intensity and energy. Overall, the best advice I can give is to go more with the environment "that is" vs. fighting upstream against it.
Seek Professional help if necessary. First get clear on “what are you seeking support for” and then ask for location specific references from friends. Online therapy options can also be very supportive and accommodating for busy schedules (goodtherapy.org or psychologytoday.com are good places to start). In addition, seek involvement in support groups that are suited to you. Once again, get specific on what type of support you need. Find a community to surround yourself with that not only helps you hold the emotional space for your feelings, but also allows you to get out of your head, have fun and enjoy the present. Lastly, make plans to do something that brings you joy, whether it's aligned with traditional "holiday fun" or not.