While the holiday season can lift the spirit with festive celebrations and time with family and friends, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. The hustle and bustle of decorating, shopping, socializing, cooking, etc. can leave us feeling more panicked than peaceful, more exhausted than energized, and more grouchy than grateful.
Decisions about where and with whom to spend the holidays can cause tension in relationships. And while visiting with family may evoke warm memories, it can also bring up painful family dynamics and the roles we played/continue to play in them.
For those who have experienced a loss, the holidays can be particularly difficult with intensified grief made more pronounced by celebration all around.
So as you approach this holiday season, here are some tips to help manage the stress and give you the best chance for making it a season of true peace, comfort, and joy:
Manage Your Expectations – We struggle when our expectations don’t match reality. Let go of the idea of being “Hallmark” holiday perfect and accept that things may not go as planned. If we anticipate that there may be a few holiday glitches, we will be less anxious ahead of time and our calm response will take the sting out of disappointment for everyone.
Prioritize Your Time – There are so many things to do and people to see during the holidays. Think about what activities are most important to you and your family and make a list. Then prioritize where you want to spend your time and money. Plan ahead so that you won’t feel rushed, and attend events early to beat the crowds.
Be in the Moment (Mindfulness) – It often feels like time speeds up between Halloween and Christmas with the pace of activity reaching a dizzying speed. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment, without thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Try to keep your mind on being where you are and fully experiencing the “now.” Feel the warmth of the fire in the fireplace. Hear the laughter of children. Savor the tastes of the holiday treats, one slow bite at a time. Come up with a mantra – such as “all is well right now” or “one moment at time” – that will center you in the present and enable you to fully experience the joy of the season.
Set Boundaries – It’s ok to decide how and with whom you will spend your time. Set clear boundaries with family and friends. For example, if you struggle with your in-laws, talk with your partner and agree upon a set amount of time that you will spend with them. Communicate your intentions in a calm and respectful manner, and stick to the plan. Being assertive and setting boundaries is always a little uncomfortable, but being true to yourself will prevent you from being resentful and will be better for you and your family in the long run.
Take Care of Yourself – When times get busy, taking care of ourselves is often the last thing on our minds. But that’s exactly when we need it the most. Start with the basics – get your sleep, eat regular meals (not just cookies), and work some movement into your day. Small practices like savoring a cup of tea, soaking in a hot bath, or chatting with a good friend can do wonders for the spirit. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned and you are feeling cranky. Think about how you might treat a friend who is struggling, and try to extend that same kindness to yourself. Research shows that those who practice self-compassion are less anxious and less depressed with increased happiness and life satisfaction. Practicing self-compassion is also great modeling for your children.
If you need a little extra help to manage the holidays, my door is always open. Call or email me today to book your appointment.
A wife, mother, therapist and parent educator, I believe in the dignity of every person and resilience of the human spirit. I am compassion focused and God centered with a deep appreciation for the connectedness of all living things.