For many of us, this time of year presents as a dialectic. A dialectic teaches us that two things that seem like opposites can both be true, and while the holiday season may be a time of joy, celebration, and getting together with loved ones, it can also bring about intense emotions and experiences. In order to be most prepared for these situations, we can practice the DBT skill of Coping Ahead. The Coping Ahead skill is part of the emotion regulation module of DBT and it is used to help us build our “emotional cushion” to reduce our vulnerability to intense emotions. We can cope ahead by anticipating which situations may be difficult and preparing what we will say or how we will act in these moments to manage our emotions most effectively. Coping ahead works best when we rehearse our plan over and over or imagine the exact steps we will take or DBT skills we will use in upcoming situations.
Here are some ways to Cope Ahead for this holiday season:
1. Recognize which situations may trigger intense emotions.These may be situations that occur year after year or new circumstances that you are anticipating for the first time (i.e., first holiday after the loss of a loved one). Be mindful of your emotions and allow yourself to experience emotions as they come, without judgment.
2. Plan Ahead. Create a schedule and budget for yourself when doing holiday shopping or prepping for events. Create a meal plan before holiday parties so that you do not regret your choices or become filled with guilt. Prepare how you may answer all the “wrong” questions asked by various family members. Schedule activities for yourself, volunteer, or obtain support if this is a time when you may feel lonely.
3. Engage in pleasant and relaxing activities outside of planning and attending holiday celebrations. Make time for yourself. Plan soothing and relaxing activities following what you anticipate may be a stressful event.
4. Engage in self-care. Focus on caring for yourself by using the DBT PLEASE Skill. The PLEASE skill helps reduce our emotional vulnerability by making sure we treat PhysicaL illness, balance Eating, Avoid mood altering drugs, balance Sleep, and get Exercise.
5. Let go of expectations and fully participate. Accept that the holidays may bring up emotions of anger, sadness, joy, and loneliness. Accept that family members are who they are and we cannot control what they say or do. Engage in holiday activities and conversations without expectation or judgment. Be in the present moment.
Remember, these are just some ways to plan ahead for the holidays. We encourage you to come up with additional ways to cope ahead that will be most effective for you. We wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday and new year!