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Psychologist’s advice for coping with festive triggers

Published Dec 16, 2021


IT has been a long year hasn't it? But the year is not over just yet. And that means you might still have to face a few emotional difficulties having to deal with the stress that may come from the festive season.

“Many of us may find it difficult to regulate our emotions when faced with distressing situations, such as family tensions, financial pressures, dealing with loss or worry about the future,” says Julies.

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“Looking for ways to deal with distress, we may find ourselves reaching for the old familiar ‘crutches’ such as alcohol, food, over-the-counter medication, reliance on social media and technology, or unhealthy relationships with certain people, when facing uncomfortable situations.”

Julies says it is easier for a person to fall back into their old habits but finding coping mechanisms that are healthier and are long-lasting is what everyone must focus on.

To start off, Julies advises folks not to dwell on the things that are beyond their control.She says that it is important to note the things that one is in control of and can influence so as to get a desired outcome.

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“The things that I have direct control over include my thoughts, my words, my actions, my decisions, my attitude and my mood. Secondly, there are aspects of life that we may be able to influence, such as other people’s actions, where we work, and who follows us on social media.

“Thirdly, there are things we may be concerned about that are simply not within our control, such as lockdown restrictions, the weather, media, a sports match, traffic, or our past decisions, choices and behaviour.”

According to Julies, being mindful of these things can help us focus our energy on the issues that truly matter, and that could be sources of happiness.

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Another solution would be building tolerance and coping skills to help one manage unpleasant situations that cannot be escaped from.

“One of the approaches that has proved effective for many people in dealing with interpersonal conflict is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT),. It is an evidence-based form of therapy that can also be helpful in treating personality disorders and certain mental health conditions.”

One DBT tool that has proven to be effective is distress tolerance. It has reportedly been referred to as ‘the ability to tolerate distress without acting on it’.

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“These skills empower you to survive an immediate crisis without making it worse, as it can be tempting to react impulsively in times when we may be overwhelmed by emotions,”

“One of the easiest ways to deal with distressing situations or emotions is to focus on your five senses to ground yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, find five things that you can see, four things that you can hear, three things that you can touch, two things that you can smell and one thing that you can taste. This simple exercise in mindfulness can help prevent you from doing or saying something you may later regret.”

Here is a list of other things you can do that Julies advises

  • Get enough good quality sleep
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Take brief rest periods during the day to relax
  • Take vacations away from home and work
  • Engage in pleasurable or fun activities such as yoga, prayer, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation
  • Avoid overindulging in caffeine and alcohol

“Take care of yourself and your mental health all year round. For information about mental health issues and services, accessing care, and for professional help in a mental health crisis, Netcare Akeso is here to help. In the event of a psychological crisis, emergency support can be reached on 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

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