The holidays are accompanied by a range of complex emotions and experiences, and they are not always positive.
As a health, wellness, and nutrition coach, you have built a relationship with your client. Your services may even represent a pivotal moment in their lives, where they are learning to prioritize their long-term health and wellbeing.
Now, your clients may feel like they have to compromise their well-being around the holidays. This article explains how and why the holidays may be a source of stress for clients and suggests ways you can support them.
What Are Some Common Causes of Holiday Stress?
Some of the most common causes of holiday stress include, but are not limited to:
- Pressure to make things perfect and magical for others
- Pressure to buy, spend, and get into debt
- Holiday gatherings with family and friends who make you uncomfortable
- Worries about judgment from others about choices, conditions, and physical appearance
- Memories of negative experiences
- Traumaversaries, which are the anniversaries of traumatic events in your life
What Are Traumaversaries?
Traumaversaries are the anniversaries of a traumatic event in a person’s life. They may spark deep or difficult emotions. For people whose traumaversary occurs around the holidays, it may change the way the holiday is experienced. For others, the tradition or expectation of gatherings and events around this time of year reminds people of traumatic experiences.
Traumatic experiences might include but are not limited to abuse, neglect, and loss.
There is no one set way that people respond to traumaversaries. Some people may not want to engage in activities and events common to the season. Others may want to keep themselves busy to avoid thinking about it.
As a health, nutrition, and fitness coach, you may be a trusted ally to your client and one that has supported them through periods of change in all dimensions of their wellbeing.
Mental health advocate Alexandria L. suggests three ways people can get through traumaversaries.
- Make sure you feel safe: Take actions and make decisions that will help you feel safe and protected. Sometimes this means saying no to traditional holiday gatherings.
- Give yourself space: Feeling the feelings and allowing yourself to express them in a safe environment is vital.
- Go out of your way to treat yourself: In the hustle and bustle of the holidays (or of life in general), it can be difficult to find time for self-care. Staying busy, while it can distract you, can also make things more stressful and make you feel unprepared for memories of traumatic events. Take time to care for yourself and do things that make you feel worthy of love, important, well, and rested.
People who have experienced trauma are likely to benefit from therapy. If appropriate, you can help your client locate mental health services to complement their healing journey.
5 Ways To Support Clients to Manage or Avoid Stressful Situations Around the Holidays
Offer a safe space for clients to talk about aspects of the season that are the source of stress
When you ask your client, “Are you ready for the holidays?” and their response is less than excited, you may want to consider making yourself available to listen, even if they don’t feel like it at the moment. You can ask them if they would like to talk about it, and, if so, let them lead the conversation. If they don’t want to talk about it, you can tell them that if they change their mind, you’d be happy to set some time aside during the next session.
Use active listening skills and open body language as they speak. You can show them you are listening by summarizing what they are saying. It might sound something like, “I hear you saying that you are feeling nervous about your family being judgmental about your decision to stop drinking. That must be hard knowing that you might need to defend your lifestyle choices.”
Sometimes, taking time during the session to create a safe space for clients to express what they are feeling can make all of the difference.
Suggest starting new holiday traditions
For some people, traditions are to be protected and kept. The holidays are surrounded by countless national, religious, and family traditions. Sometimes, traditions are kept even when they no longer resonate with those pressing them.
It is normal for situations, people, values, and family dynamics to change. If traditions are no longer enveloped by desirable feelings and experiences, then it may be time to make some changes to the tradition or even make new ones.
You can ask your client what they would like to be doing instead and let them share ideas on how that would look and whether they think it is possible.
Remind them that their health and wellness are vital, and when they are ready, they can make changes to guard and promote their wellbeing with traditions of their own.
Help them spot gaslighting and discouraging comments
Gaslighting is a type of emotional and psychological abuse that makes you question your experiences and view of reality. It is a type of manipulation that can make you feel like you did not understand or imagined things. Gaslighting can also make you want to suppress your feelings or lie about experiences so that they fit what is deemed socially acceptable.
Some signs of gaslighting include:
- Refusing to listen to you
- Lying to make you question your version of the events
- Questioning your memory of your version of the events
- Denying they ever said or did something you know they did
- Shifting the topic of conversation to get the attention away from the topic
- Trivializing an event or experience to make you feel like it is unimportant. They may accuse you of being too sensitive or overreacting.
Gaslighting is a behavior that makes a person feel invalidated, not worthy, or discouraged. Healthy interactions and relationships should be respectful and supportive. Learning about what gaslighting is can help your clients identify it. Whether they choose to call it out or not, seeing the signs can help them step back from the situation and see it as a form of manipulation by the other person rather than a true criticism of their experiences and feelings.
Tell them about self-regulation techniques
When your client is caught up in the moment and finds themselves stressed, out of breath, restless, and anxious, or with a strong desire to shut down, learning about self-regulation techniques can help to avoid a cascade of negative interactions and events.
Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and energy states in ways that produce positive results, such as calm feelings, productivity, wellbeing, and learning.
Some self-regulation techniques include:
- Deep breathing
- Have a go-to phrase or mantra that inspires calm and introspectiveness (e.g., “What am I feeling right now?” Or, “I have control over how I respond to this stress”)
- Describing what you are feeling
- The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique for anxiety
- Gratitude exercises
Practice responses for stressful scenarios
Your client may feel anxious about holiday gatherings if they anticipate uncomfortable exchanges and interactions with others. Some potentially anxiety-inducing scenarios include:
- Comments about their weight, body size, and general appearance (Wow, we’ve gotten plumper, haven’t we? Do you really need that second serving? You look so thin! You should really eat more.)
- Criticism about food and lifestyle choices (What do you mean you don’t eat meat? Why are you eating that if you are a health coach? I can’t believe you are still doing that! It’s so bad for you!)
- Comments about parenting choices (Why are you bottle feeding/breastfeeding? Bottle feeding/breastfeeding is so much better! Isn’t your child too old to be breastfeeding? Shouldn’t your child be eating more/less? You need to learn to control your child!)
- Comments about relationship status and choices (When will you bring a significant other? What did you do to scare away so-and-so? When are you going to settle down? When are you going to give me grandchildren?)
- Comments bringing up past trauma (Two years ago, this was the worst Christmas ever. Remember how Uncle George used to do that weird thing?)
People are usually caught off-guard when they are asked these questions, and most people aren’t prepared to respond in a way that makes them feel better.
You can model and practice what your client can do and how they can respond to these rude and uncomfortable comments. You can ask them if they feel more comfortable:
- Setting a boundary (Thank you for your concern, but we do not talk about weight or body size in our home.)
- Engaging in a conversation about the topic (Actually, fruit cake can be a perfectly fine addition to a balanced diet.)
- Redirecting the conversation (I prefer not to talk about this right now. But, let’s talk about our favorite holiday movies!)
After offering a few ways your client can respond, you can suggest your client practice with you the ways they feel comfortable responding. After having practiced it, if a person does make rude or uncomfortable comments, they are prepared for them and have a response ready to ease some of the anxiety.
This article describes ways in which the holidays can mark a season of stress and anxiety for you and your clients. It explains how memories of trauma may be a cause of that stress and how to take care of yourself in the wake of a traumaversary. It also goes into detail describing five ways you can support your client in managing and coping with the stress and anxiety that can build up around the holiday season.
While this information may be useful for your clients, you might find that it may help you manage your own stress and anxiety. Implementing these suggestions yourself is not only a way for you to care for your own health and wellbeing, it can also build a sense of empathy when supporting your clients.
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