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Numbing for Coping With Stress, Especially During the Holidays

Numbing for Coping With Stress, Especially During the Holidays

The holiday season is here! This time of year is usually challenging, regardless of how crazy the world is out there.

What makes this season usually more challenging is that we trip into it and get sucked into the hecticness. This sets us up for chaos, being stretched too thin, overwhelm, drama, and too much noise. Where we end up neglecting, and even abusing, ourselves trying to get it all done or managing what comes up.

This is the perfect formula for us to turn to numbing for coping with stress during the holidays.

[Related: Tough Luck, Self-Awareness, Ballroom Dancing: A Well-Earned Win!]

When we turn to numbing, we actually make things worse.

Stress during the holidays has to do with:

  • How much there is to do. We usually have full plates and then add all the holiday's tasks to it.
  • Wrapping up the year professionally or in our business. We have goals to meet for projects and revenue.
  • Taking stock of where we are. The end-of-year and being witnessed by others more closely showcases our achievements or lack thereof.
  • Managing family dynamics. At minimum, we have family members' needs and preferences to consider. Most have other drama and trauma to contend with, as well.
  • Triggering memories, expectations, and any lack-consciousness we might have. We have additional expenses, we have worthiness issues, we have codependency issues, and a lot more.

This basic list is enough to highlight why this time is so rough. There is so much going on practically, mentally, and emotionally. I tackled some of the practical and mental side of things in my last blog post. Today, I want to focus on the emotional side to help you better cope during this intense time.

  • We can be preventative by not getting sucked into the season’s nuttiness unprepared, which creates more drama, busyness, and overwhelm.
  • We can be preventative by designing our holiday and year-end experience, so we stay grounded and cool as the season progresses.
  • We can be preventative by choosing how we want to experience the season and embodying the choice.

We can do an amazing job of all this, and we’d be way ahead of the game, yet we might still experience negative feelings and get triggered. And what usually happens is that we go into survival mode and employ our usual defense mechanisms to weather the storm.

We might go into:

  • Overdrive to get things done, neglecting to take care of our basic needs. We might neglect our sleep, eating, hydration, or exercise. Never mind sustaining our rich self-care practice.
  • Autopilot and going through the motions just to check off the list, meet expectations and responsibilities, and/or to just get through it.
  • Shutdown mode, where we are barely functioning and let ourselves and others down.

Through this we are trying not to feel the awful feelings we might be feeling, and so additionally turn to behaviors and coping mechanisms of the numbing nature. These can take on many forms. They don’t have to be the usual drinking, drugging, eating, and spending.

The numbing coping can also take on the form of: Excessing shopping, looking for deals, going down rabbit holes with email offers, online-surfing, hanging out in social channels, binge-watching Netflix, YouTube, or other entertainment platforms, cleaning, grooming, organizing, and so on.

The pursuit of these activities not only gives us comfort, as they give us easy access to feel-good hormones, but keeps our attention otherwise engaged. This means we can’t feel our actual feelings and don’t have space or attention to address what is creating the feelings.

Additionally, when we operate this way, we lose motivation to go get it, as we have a feel-good source that is temporary and not meaningful. When we cope with numbing, we end up creating more issues for ourselves.

[Related: Sacrificing Your Health for Success Can Have the Opposite Effect]

Numbing coping is what zaps our zest for life!

When we turn to numbing as our coping mechanism on a consistent basis, this becomes part of our MO. We essentially mute ourselves, deprive ourselves of our motivation and drive, shut ourselves off from our internal resources, and become disconnected from our higher self, from our loved ones, and from the world. We become robotic in our daily life, actually missing out on our human experience.

Instead of numbing ourselves for an easier ride, how about we actually manage ourselves and our lives for a more exquisite and meaningful ride?

I get it’s not easy to experience the possibility of our full range of emotions. I get it’s not easy to feel what comes up, learn from it, and make the changes we desire. I get it’s not easy to actually choose and create the feelings and experience we prefer and are after.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I know it’s a foreign concept to some that we can actually choose how we want to feel and feel it. That we create not only with our doing, but primarily with our being. That we can be how we choose. That we are humbly that powerful.

We might not be able to flip the switch and all of a sudden be experts at this. It is not easy to break the numbing habit. But, we can make a commitment to actually live our life, we can start where we are, and we can go at it with gusto.

This means you enlist your support system for encouragement, resources, and the holding you might need. And, this might mean you get additional professional support if you are serious about cracking the code. Why take longer and struggle when you can benefit from an expert to make this easier?

Commit to being the owner and manager of your feelings and mood, so you don’t have to depend on the numbing coping and can actually engage in and enjoy your life to the fullest!

Start where you are:

  • Identify the preferred and miscellaneous numbing coping you use.
  • Identify what you are numbing, what feelings you are avoiding.
  • Identify what’s uncomfortable about those feelings, how they are familiar, what they bring up, what meaning you are giving that, how you victimize yourself, and how you disempower yourself.
  • Identify the secondary gain of not feeling your feelings, how you maintain the status quo, and how you keep yourself stuck.

Please note that this level of awareness and exposure, even to yourself, creates vulnerability. You might feel a bit wobbly after doing this exercise. Reward yourself for your courage and strength with some natural, recharging, and meaningful pampering.

This work in and of itself is huge. You’ll feel liberation and empowerment.

The next step is to take action toward replacing the numbing coping with a healthy habit or behavior, and a tweaked daily routine or plan that is less triggering. Now you are ready for your deeper work to handle this for good.

First things first: Plant a flag and start with soothing the current emotions and addressing immediate triggers. Then, set yourself up to take care of your deeper work so you do make your lasting change and live the life you want.

Assignment: Let’s keep it really simple, shall we?

  1. Do the practical preventative aspects of planning out the holidays and the year-end so you minimize the stress.
  2. Take stock of how you tend to numb, commit to feeling your feelings instead, and manage them properly (self-care practices are the key).
  3. Make a commitment to doing the deeper work so you are not so susceptible to triggers and not feeling well.

When you choose to not numb out as part of your repertoire in life, but instead to deal with your life, you are actually living your life. Woot! Make a commitment to living an engaged and meaningful life! Start this holiday season, and make it your business for 2021.

Happy living!

[Related: My Struggle to Lead From My Heart]


Emma K. Viglucci, LMFT is the Founder and Director of Metropolitan Marriage & Family Therapy, PLLC, a private practice that specializes in working with couples. She is the creator of the MetroRelationship philosophy and the Successful Couple Strategy, which help couples succeed at their relationship and their life. To stay connected with her and receive weekly connection notes in your inbox with Personal Development and Relationship Enrichment insights and strategies, visit:

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.