If only it were that easy, right? The reality of this time is the stress and anxiety that is brought about with all of the event planning, home decorating, the school pageants, shopping, cooking and baking, finding the perfect gift (that is within our budgets which have already been pushed to the max), the family members that we dread seeing, the weight we have gained over the last year, finding something to wear since we never have time or money to do any real shopping for ourselves, the holiday office parties that will produce hours of awkward conversations and forced smiles, and the list goes on and on....
This time of year we seem to be bombarded with messages telling us we have to have all the pieces in place for a perfect holiday or we will (in some way or another) be the cause of the chaos and stress for everyone we are with. Oh and not just one individual seems to hold us to this, but many, many of our various neighbors, friends, family and colleagues. This can be extremely stressful and frustrating because it can make a potentially happy and connected time of year unnecessarily stressful. We seem to be getting further away from the most important part of the holiday season – the connection and time spent with those we love. People think that spending money and buying gifts is a substitute for love and intimacy. Ironically, most individuals would ultimately prefer the latter.
So, how do we keep ourselves sane and actually find some happiness throughout the holiday season? Well, here are some tips I find helpful for surviving the holidays:
- Realistic Expectations – Don't expect everything to be perfect. You won't get everything you want, things will go wrong, and you probably won't feel like Bing Crosby singing "Jingle Bells". Allow for mishaps and don't create expectations that you or others are not going to live up to unless you become a cartoon character that lives in an enchanted castle.
- Loneliness – Some of us may not be around as many of our friends and family this year and that can cause us to feel lonely and depressed. There are many events going on that you can volunteer with, go window shopping without purchasing anything, enjoy strolling around the neighborhood looking at decorations, get yourself out and about to help with the lonely feelings.
- Gratitude – Don't focus on the material things, but the things that matter most to us – our relationships. Take a moment everyday to make a gratitude list of what you most appreciate and what you really need to feel fulfilled in life. You will soon find that recognizing the simple things that you are grateful for can improve your outlook.
- Intentions – We may find ourselves zipping through the holidays in a blind rush, forgetting what the season is truly about. Whatever your beliefs, pause for a moment and consciously consider what you feel the holidays are about, what is important to you. This may be spending time with family and friends, remembering what you are thankful for, or giving to those in need. There is no right or wrong intention, just whatever feels right to you. Live your truth. The holidays are a great time to think about your mission statement for life for the next year. Ask yourself, " Is this the life I want to be living?"
- Boundaries – Don't be afraid to set boundaries. Holiday stress can come from many places, not the least is overbooking yourself and your family. Many of us feel like we cannot say no; that it is not polite or nice. This is not true! You have the right to set healthy boundaries for yourself and your family. Fatigue, over-scheduling, and taking on too many tasks can dampen your spirits. Learn to say no and don't feel guilty. Try delegating as much as possible and manage your time wisely. If you choose to do less you will have more energy to enjoy the most important part of the season – friends and family.
- Self-Care – Give yourself a break; create time for yourself to do things YOU love and need to do for your physical and mental wellness; aerobic exercise, yoga, massage, spiritual practices, taking long fast walks or any activity that calms you down and gives you a better perspective on what is important in your life.
- Awkwardness – After the first moments of hellos, how have you been, catch-up and remembrances of times past, topics of mutual interests often wane. If you are not into the football games or the never-ending health challenges of your three oh-so-favorite aunts, you may often find yourself feeling awkward. One of the worst things you can do is fill your time with negative self-talk inside your mind as you stew over hearing these things and are creating a miserable time for yourself. But the worst thing is to drink too much for your own management and make a fool of yourself that you will have to live down the rest of your life. A great stress reducer is to start a puzzle, play games of chess or checkers, or some other option in which you can appreciate each other more.
- Toxic Food – Okay, I will be the first to admit that I love holiday treats, but one of the worst foods you can consume is processed sugar. The heavy doses of sugar will send you on a roller coaster with a significant downward spiral. A high level of consumption can result in a level of toxicity in your system, which even low-level allergies can begin to pledge you. Do not let the holidays become a reason for over-indulging and hangovers. This will exacerbate your depression and anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is a depressant. I will say it again, ALCOHOL IS A DEPRESSANT. People with depression should not drink alcohol.
- Memories – Holidays are significant anniversaries of events for us all. They remind us of people and times we enjoyed as well as regret. There are individuals we miss and missed opportunities that we wish could come again. Then there are also times we want to forget but the stage is set that the cues are so powerful we can't seem to get the thoughts and images out of our minds. If we are successful in coping through those thoughts and images, don't worry.... It never fails that someone (Cousin Eddie) will be sure to remind you and want to talk about them. Allow yourself the time to process, remember, and grieve if necessary.
- Generosity – One of the best ways to stay calm, content and cheerful this time of year is to act generously with your loved ones, co-workers and friends. This doesn't have to mean your spending a lot of money. You can be generous with your compliments. You can generously offer to do a loved one's dreaded errand. You can generously write a fun, short poem. When you are creative with your gifts and thank you's, people appreciate your real, heartfelt sentiment.
- Forgiveness – Learn and practice forgiveness and acceptance. If some of your friends or relatives have always acted out or made you feel bad, chances are that won't change. If you know what you're getting into, it will be easier to not let them push your buttons. If things get uncomfortable go to a movie or for a drive and allow yourself time to regroup.
- Put on some rose colored glasses – When people try to push their bad habits on you during the holiday season, tune into their motivations. For instance, before you get annoyed at Aunt Bessie, who keeps urging you to try a piece of her famous chess pie, or your co-worker Carla, who keeps trying to fill your glass with alcohol, first take a deep breath. Then, step into their shoes and realize that Aunt Bessie is just showing that she loves you, and Carla is merely trying to be convivial. Then graciously thank them for their misguided attention. Rather than view your situation with annoyance, be grateful instead.
And always remember to add some humor into your holidays. Laughter is great therapy in any situation. I sincerely hope your holidays are a wonderful time of year for you and your family. Take the time to create the experience you deserve and desire for yourself this holiday season.
If you are really struggling during this holiday season, take a look at Brookhaven Retreat's website at http://www.brookhavenretreat.com. You can also contact me on my personal cell at 865.712.4372 if you would like to know more about Brookhaven Retreat and what we can do to help ladies who are struggling.