Stress around the holidays, any holiday, is common. In this blog we hope to help demystify it and give you some coping strategies.
First of all let us just acknowledge that the holidays regardless of which holiday can be stressful, and leave us struggling. It is absolutely crucial to admit this, recognize and grasp it, and hold on to it. The fantasy that holidays are always the best time of the year, and such a wonderful time, stand in direct opposition to what many people feel and experience. Believing that it should be a wonderful time and experiencing it as stressful and trying further robs us of a sense of reality. What is wrong with me? It is the happiest time of the year and I am stressed, depressed, worried and angry. Why don’t we start with the idea that the holidays can be wonderful, but for most people they are stressful and challenging. Got that!!!!!! It’s a key idea.
1. Give yourself permission to not be having a wonderful time
Next, let’s acknowledge that many of our greatest feelings about the holidays come from childhood. This was a time when the holidays focused on us. For many of us we were told fantasies about what was really happening, and no one wanted to ruin the magic of the holidays for the children. All this means is that as a child you were experiencing a fantasy orchestrated for your benefit, complete with gifts and food and days away from school. It was designed to be fun for you. Chances are you aren’t that child anymore. Chances are you are now an adult, living the adult version of the holidays. Which means the show is largely not about you. Now I am not saying its your parents fault for making Christmas too good as a child, I am just helping to orient many of you as to why you have so many great memories and now you don’t feel the magic that you once did.
Let’s look at some of the less pleasant features of an adult holiday. First and foremost it’s going to take up your already short supply of time. There is cooking, cleaning, gift purchasing, invitations and managing invites to contend with. If you don’t have that problem then you have the problem of not having those things and thinking that you should.
2. Maintain your budget.
Let’s jump to gifts and purchasing. This time of the year is expensive, and as an adult there can be tremendous pressure to buy gifts and throw costly events. It can be hard enough to balance our budgets the rest of the year, making the holidays that much more challenging. My suggestion is that we are just completely honest about what we are doing here. The goal should really be meaningful time together, not large credit card debt and financial stress. Be honest with yourself and be honest with your family about what you can afford to do and develop strategies that work for everyone. Chances are your family will love that someone brought it up to help keep it sane this year.
3. Set realistic limits around family time.
Gathering the family: Oh is this filled with mixed emotions and issues! We are all supposed to love our families, not have been hurt by any of the relationships and live happily ever after. What a complete and utter flaming lie. A friend of mine is a pharmacist, and he really dislikes the two weeks before the holidays. It’s when a huge number of people present looking for anti-anxiety medication that they don’t need the rest of the year. And his understanding of this experience is that it’s to cope with awkward and unhealthy family dynamics. In the trauma world we see numerous stabbing over the holiday’s. They involve brothers and uncles, fathers and sons, and sometimes literally while carving the turkey. Please don’t stab anyone, or start taking drugs to cope with bad relationships.
The point in raising this is to let you know you aren’t alone and there are many people that probably struggle with even more intense feelings then you. You need a game plan to manage these events. First of all, be honest with how much you can take and limit your exposure. Make sure you have adequate recovery time between visits and events and make sure you are looking after yourself.
4. Set clear limits and boundaries.
Determine what issues you have with who, and have a basic strategy on how to navigate them. Knowing what subjects are off limits and what your boundaries are is gold. Be firm on these and know that even though your “loved one” may not react very well to having new boundaries or topics that are off limits, you are working on a relationship that is more comfortable for everyone over time. It might also be an excellent time to look at ourselves, and wonder who we might be able to help more, and who we might want to support more during the holidays.
5. Be open to the idea that we might be the villain in someone else’s story.
This may not be the best time to discuss old issues or grudges, and keep more of our opinions to ourselves. Be open to the idea that for someone else we might be the stressor in their holiday. What kind of a gift would it be for that person if you realized that not all of your interactions were positive and that you were going to own your piece. Just imagine…. In an Ego-Less world we realize that we can all make the mistakes and we can all be open to being the solution, for ourselves and others.
Some relationships are just entirely too toxic to handle. These are the ones you just can’t do again, if that is the case give yourself permission to not attend. I would suggest staying away from the blame game. After the holidays, or before if you have the time, arrange a meeting with that person to discuss the effects of your relationship. Try and work together on making things fun and sane for everyone. Most people will try and work with you to resolve issues. A councillor might be required. Understand that not every relationship can work out, especially if one of the parties refuses to accept any responsibility or can’t see their own actions. Once again always look at yourself too. Are you fully open to change in the relationship?
6. Eat nourishing food, get adequate sleep and exercise, and do something fun for yourself.
Self Care. Over the holidays we often drink too much, sleep too much or too little, eat too much and don’t get enough exercise. (Isn’t that the point?) Well yes and no. Let's remember that we are going through a stressful time and possibly mixing with people that might cause us stress. If that is true, or should I say the more that is true, the more you need to maintain your self-care. Staying healthy and happy always goes back to those motherhood and apple pie statements. Eat nourishing food, get adequate sleep and exercise, and do something fun for yourself.
Really…… I mean really, did you just give me my grandmother’s advise….? Yes absolutely….! The truth is that the hardest truths to practise are the simplest.
Making it Magical: You can make the holidays more fun and enjoyable by acknowledging the issues, and stress around them, and by working with others to keep this sane and fun. Remember it’s about spending time with people and making healthy and satisfying relationships. It doesn’t have to be an expensive, exhausting, taxing and stressful event. Be realistic in the planning and accepting of invitations. Be reasonable in the expenses you can afford. There are literally tons of fun ways you can save money and actually have more fun. The amount of money you spend on the holiday and the amount of fun you have are in no way related. Many of my friends that have the best holidays and social events have the least money to spend.