Updated: Jan 2, 2020
By Shannon Heers
Despite our best intentions, how we get through the holidays can often bring out the worst in us. We can have very high expectations of ourselves to create the best holiday experience we can for everyone around us. Those expectations may come from our families, ourselves, or from the external world. It tells us how we should set our tables, coordinate our outfits, and the types of food that we should provide. Besides the expectations, there’s all of the extra work involved in holiday preparation, such as extra shopping for food or gifts and the extra money that is never quite budgeted right that the holidays eat up. And finally, the mental toll and emotional stress involved with family members, juggling a million details, and traveling during extremely busy times is enough to wear one down.
You’ve tried different techniques and strategies in the past to change how you do things, but it’s not quite enough. Is it possible to do things differently? To get through the holidays without losing yourself? What you need is an outline, a big picture concept, of how to survive the holidays. You can gain a sense of control again over your emotions and stress throughout the holidays. By the end of this article, you’ll have some actionable tips to help you survive the holidays.
The following tips will help you get a plan in place that is easy to follow, leading you to have a more connected, enjoyable, and satisfying holiday season:
Planning ahead is essential to help moderate your stress during the holidays. While for some, planning ahead of time is akin to cutting off a limb, if you break it down into small parts and work on each part a bit every day, you will feel more equipped to handle large gatherings, shop for ridiculous amounts of food, and create space for all the friends and family that need it. Put your plan down on paper or the computer, and have a check-off system in place that helps you see the progress you’re making.
Our default during the holiday season seems to be “yes” when we respond to various family and friend gatherings, party invites, and work get-togethers, all in the name of celebrating the season. However, all of these extra events can lead to exhaustion, less sleep, perhaps more imbibing in holiday drinks, and more overall stress. Take a look at all of the invitations you and/or your family have gotten, and prioritize saying “yes” to the ones that are required and put the rest in the “no” pile. While it may be difficult to turn down a fun party invitation, your mind and body (and maybe even the rest of your family!) will thank you.
Moderation, moderation, moderation
There are so many excesses associated with the holidays: excessive spending, excessive food and drink, excessive crowded gatherings, etc. What if, instead of taking excess for granted, we start to set some limits with ourselves about what we can buy, consume, and attend? If we instead choose to moderate ourselves, we will likely come away from the holiday season richer, feeling better physically, and not so stressed.
Control what you can control
Ah, this is a tough one to practice when you are used to controlling so many aspects of your life. When we go into someone else’s home for a meal, or travel to a family member’s house for a visit and try to see all 30 of your “closest” relatives in 3 days, it seems impossible that we can control some aspects of these situations. However, you can choose what you can control. Perhaps you can control bringing a specific dish or two that you and your family love to the table so you don’t need to eat Aunt Edna’s stale casserole. Or maybe it’s your kids’ bedtimes that are important to you. Whatever you choose to control, practice letting the rest go. Changing your expectations around what you can control will make the event or holiday more pleasurable for you to experience.
Holidays are often touted as important for spending time with friends and family. When that happens, we often lose ourselves in the mix. We come back from a “vacation” needing another vacation! It is important to take time for yourself daily during the holidays. Whatever that means to you, plan ahead to enforce it. If you can take an hour a day to yourself, that is ideal, perhaps just lying in a quiet room contemplating, or taking a dog on a walk outside, or exercising in the morning by yourself before everyone gets up. Share your plan with others to get buy-in and let them know that you are not to be disturbed. I guarantee you will be a better host, guest, spouse, parent, or child to others if you get some alone time each day.
It seems that we lose sight of the meaning of the holiday(s) until the actual day we are celebrating something. Meaning gets lost in all of the preparation and travel details. Try setting aside just one minute a day, for the 2-4 weeks leading up to whatever holiday you’re celebrating, to just sit and reflect on what this holiday means for you and your family. This may give you more energy to work on the first 5 tips presented above, if you remember why you are doing everything again.
You may be feeling overwhelmed just contemplating the holidays, and it may be difficult to make changes in how to approach, experience, and manage your holiday season. However maybe making some changes could be worth it. Wouldn’t you like to feel more relaxed, less stressed, and more present and connected this holiday season? If you implement the above tips to help you survive the holidays, you will notice a definite change in yourself during the process.
If you are interested in how therapy can support you in managing your stress during the holidays, contact us at Catalyss Counseling for a free 20-minute phone consultation or schedule an appointment online with one of our experienced therapists.
Shannon Heers is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, grief and loss, and addictions, to live a more balanced life. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn or Facebook.