By Laurel Thompson

Tips for a happy holiday season

Ho, ho, ho or holiday hell?

Either way, it’s a stressful time. Self-care is a critical part of the equation for those who struggle during the holidays, says Laura Reid, licensed clinical therapist and owner of Mountainside Counseling in Loveland. Try putting some of these self-care strategies into practice so you can enjoy the festivities.

Knowing your boundaries and communicating them is your best defense when it comes to managing others’ expectations during the holidays. If you, say, don’t want to cook, talk about politics or build a Death Star Lego for your kids on Christmas Eve, Reid says it’s important to advocate for yourself: “Know what’s not okay with you and be able to articulate that. Everyone will respond a little differently, so the outcome depends on how you communicate your feelings.”

It’s also important to manage your expectations of others so you aren’t let down. Reid recommends creating a ritual of your own that no one can take away, such as making your favorite meal, running a Turkey Trot or watching a movie you love on the same day every year. That way you always have something to look forward to without having to rely on anyone else.

If you have reservations about going back to your childhood home, to an in-law’s house or anywhere else that makes you feel insecure, Reid says wearing something that makes you feel confident can help build confidence. “Allow yourself to dress up in a way that makes you feel really proud of yourself for leaving the house. Looking your best and feeling comfortable in your own skin can really help with empowerment,” she says.

Going for a run, a bike ride or even a walk in the park can do wonders for your mental health, especially if you feel overwhelmed this time of year. It all goes back to a concept called “grounding” or “regulation,” which helps you get out of your head and create a more solid connection with your surroundings.

According to Reid, bilateral stimulation can also help with regulation: “Doing anything that engages both sides of your body can help your brain catch up when you feel like it has shut down. Try tapping both legs together or listen to binaural sounds that start on one side and move to the other.”

No amount of online shopping, overpriced lattes or long baths can replace the need to sit with our feelings sometimes. Reid says coming to terms with our emotions is where pain meets healing, and that the best thing we can do is trust that they are valid. Confide in a friend you feel emotionally safe with (even if it’s just your cat).

Journaling is a great way to get those feelings out if you’re afraid to say them out loud. “Respect and honor where you’re at and know that whatever emotion you’re feeling is there for good reason,” she says. “You matter. What you feel matters.”