The Montfort Group

The holiday blues

As a therapist, it’s no secret that the holiday season comes equipped with more than presents, familiar comfort food, and social gatherings that permeate tradition. Often, for many, it’s a time filled with grief, comparison, magnified anxiety, financial concerns, and familial dysfunction. 

So how do we protect ourselves, mentally and emotionally, as we inevitably face the jingles and the bells, the lights and the wrapping paper? 

Learn how to mitigate your own anxiety (I don’t say this lightly, and I know this statement alone sounds simple- it’s so difficult to conquer, yet it’s one of the most freeing and empowering things we can do for ourselves!! And don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging! A step-by-step “how to” below)

Ask yourself– what’s my intent behind what I am committing to? If any OUNCE of your being says you’re uninterested, let’s pay attention to that. 

  • Am I saying no to this event to hurt ________’s feelings? 
  • Most often, the answer is no. What I typically find is that most people don’t want to (whether it’s due to social anxiety, inability to financially contribute with food and/or gifts, or perhaps they feel depleted upon leaving these gatherings, as opposed to having their cup filled up) – this IS plenty of information that one must consider and insight that needs paying attention to. 
  • If WE know we aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings by declining an invitation, what makes it challenging to follow through? 
    • Fear of lashback – guilt trips? Silent treatment? Insert any dysfunctional form of communication here.
    • IF/when you receive these types of responses, please consider utilizing (asking yourself) the 4 questions listed below:
      1. What’s going on for me?
      2. Where do I feel this in my body (let’s develop a mind-body connection in the process)
      3. Did _______ have the conscious thought of, “I’m going to say this to make me feel ________”? 99.9% of the time, the answer is no
      4. So, what’s going on for ME at this moment? I know I’m not trying to hurt their feelings, so why do I feel so yucky (anxious, guilty, frustrated, sad, and tight in my chest/shoulders)?


**Tip/trick** – when someone disagrees with your decision, attempt to PAUSE and respond instead of “reacting” to their reaction defensively. 

Here’s what this might look like:

When I find myself surprised or taken aback by someone’s response (when, again, I know I have no ill will/malicious intent), I typically start with, “I didn’t say/do this to hurt your feelings, and I’m sorry if it did/does. Here’s what’s going on for me. “Sometimes I struggle with ____. You are someone important to me, and in no way, shape, or form was I trying to hurt/offend you.” DISCLAIMER: We can’t predict or control one’s response. Sometimes, practicing this skill can be met with more confusion because it feels like you’re taking a step towards someone or giving up a piece of yourself to not tell someone off when they just made it about them. But the truth is, running through this list of questions acknowledges those feelings. It just has you to think about them first. I never want to DENY those feelings of triggeredness. I want to honor and recognize them and ask what’s happening for you first. Then communicate.

BIGGER TIP! When this doesn’t work, they still respond with a snarky response. Go through the list AGAIN! I know it will feel like they’re pushing every button to the top of your elevator shaft, and once again, you’re biting your tongue. I promise you’re not.

This technique helped rewire how my mind worked- it took SO. MUCH. PRACTICE. And lots of what felt like setbacks! They weren’t. They were just information about the pain I’ve been suffering with my whole life! Instead of judging myself or feeling guilty, I started to understand myself differently. Because I actually acknowledged my feelings, honored them, and took control of my response. I didn’t react to the momentary feeling. So I didn’t have to feel guilty about it either. Or I wish I had said something differently. 

The more you practice, the closer you are to so much freedom.

Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

I attended The University of Texas in Austin where I majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology. During my undergraduate coursework, I did research under Dr. Rebecca Bigler, where I studied gender and racial attitudes among children. Upon competition of my undergraduate degree, I moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University’s Master of Science in Counseling program and completed all the training to become a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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