5 DBT Skills for Surviving the Holidays
Holidays can be a time of joy or misery. While we cannot control the world around us, or make reality unfold according to our preferences, we can practice our skills to navigate challenges and focus on what is most important to us…thereby influencing our mood for the better. Create a more stress free holiday season for yourself and others with the following skills.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, with an open heart and nonjudgmental stance. It is about directing what we want to focus on and when based on our wisdom and what will work. During the holidays our minds get hijacked by worries about families, get-togethers, gifts, and balancing the competing pressures of the season. The remedy is to slow down and focus on this moment, taking one thing at a time, and doing exactly what is needed (which might be just being present and not doing a thing!). We can only influence the future through this moment, so live it as effectively as you can. Also remember to take time to practice breathing, imagery, or to simply contemplate the true meaning(s) of the season.
2. OPPOSITE TO EMOTION (O2E)
The holiday season might mean that you have a lot to do. When pressure builds, procrastination and avoidance can grow. Avoidance behaviors get reinforced by what we call negative reinforcement…there is temporary relief that comes with avoiding any activity that causes stress. Step out of this trap by acting opposite to procrastination and avoidance behaviors by doing tasks and activities that need attention…take the first step and throw yourself into it. Also, don’t be afraid to balance this strategy by simplifying and letting go of task and activities that are truly non-essential.
The PLEASED skills are all about self-care. Halloween candy is still around, and more holiday goodies are on the way. Unfortunately, many of us cope with stress by indulging in the excesses of the season. It feels good in the moment, but probably works against our larger goals. This is the time to be more mindful of eating healthy, balanced food, getting more movement in our day, and improving the amount and quality of our sleep. We like to think that self-care can wait until January 1, but really the time for it is today. An increase in these skills will help make the holidays more joyful with less stress. We all do better when we feel better!
4. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE
This skill means letting go of fighting reality. When you accept and give up the fight, then you free up your mental and emotional resources to be as effective as you can. Almost by definition, needing to use acceptance means that the situation you are choosing to accept is not your preference and you do not like it. For a greater good you might need to see your in-laws (or your own family), or go to that holiday or office get-together, or make some kind of compromise. Practicing an attitude of acceptance with life’s difficulties is a nice alternative to fighting every battle and making yourself suffer over what is. That is not to say give up and give in. Sometimes we do need to set boundaries or solve a problem…but if you need to do that, you will still be more effective if you start with acceptance.
This skill is the opposite of trying to control everything or take a my way or the highway approach to others and life. Being willful limits our options and forces everyone into corners. Maybe it does not have to be your way! When appropriate, learn to let go and go with the flow. Be willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish a goal or to contribute to a get-together or another person. Let go of your preconceived notions of how you think a situation should be and practice flexibility. Holidays can make us feel out of control, which we sometimes react to by trying to control everything. People who practice willingness learn to bend so they don’t break!