Often, the holidays are full of joyful celebrations. But sometimes, we can find ourselves feeling stressed, sad, or disappointed. Although there’s no easy way to make these feelings go away, there are things you can do to minimize the challenges that come with the season.
Navigating Challenging Family Dynamics
One of the hardest parts of the holidays can be family gatherings. It doesn’t matter if you are 25 or 55, when it comes to seeing parents, most people revert to childhood patterns–and these aren’t always healthy.
While it may not feel like it, you likely have a choice about whether to participate in family affairs. If the only reason you plan to attend an event is to please others, remember that your feelings count, too. This is an excellent time to stop being a people-pleaser. If the toxic relationships in your family bring you nothing but pain, skip the family get-together.
Another option is to prepare an exit strategy. Either keep visits short or to plan ahead so you can leave if the dynamics become unhealthy for you. Let’s say you have a family member who often drinks too much and becomes belligerent or inappropriate. If you know this is likely, you can be ready to take action instead of trying to figure everything out in the moment. For example, you may want to drive yourself rather than getting a ride with someone else. And, you may want to set up an alternate place to stay in the event that you need to leave.
If you have children, they are constantly learning from the actions you take. When you stand up for yourself by removing yourself from an unhealthy situation, you teach them to create and enforce healthy boundaries.
A lot of people think what they need from relatives is love. What they actually need is respect. To earn your family’s respect, you must first respect yourself. When I am working with clients in marriage counseling, I often tell them they are allowed to say anything that maintains their own dignity and that of their spouse. Although you are not entitled to be cruel, you are entitled to share your feelings.
If the holidays bring up sad memories, allow yourself to experience them. Give yourself permission to grieve. Just because holiday movies end with Happily Ever After doesn’t mean that’s how it is in real life. If your emotions are so intense that you do not feel like you can function–get out of bed, go to work, see friends–consider making an appointment with a counselor. We can help you work through some of these difficult emotions. If you need to talk to someone immediately, call the local crisis line at 855-838-0404. If you are feeling stressed, isolated, overwhelmed, or need non-crisis support, call the warm line at 707-472-2311.
Managing Financial Stress
Another hard part about the holidays can be the feelings that come up around not having enough money to provide the experience you’d like for those you love, feelings like guilt, resentment, sorrow, disappointment.
Sometimes, shifting your focus from giving “things” to giving of yourself can help. Teaching children how fun it is to volunteer can bring a lot of joy to everyone. Make homemade holiday cards and give them to neighbors. Bake cookies and donate them.
Holidays End Eventually
While it can feel like the holidays will go on forever, they won’t. Try to maintain your healthy routines–get enough sleep, exercise, eat well–and eventually, the holidays will end.
If things get too frantic, set limits for yourself. For example, once it hits your bedtime, stop wrapping gifts and go to sleep. Try not to procrastinate, so you can do a little at a time and take breaks when you need to.
Also, do things that nourish you—drive around and look at holiday lights and decorations. Do crafts. Go for walks. Create experiences that you enjoy, and if you have children, allow them to be part of the preparation, even if it takes longer. Let the meal be late. Let everything be late. Savor the moment.
As we get older, it can be easier to see how experiences are the true gifts. A woman I know says to her grandchildren, “Just give me a kiss. Then I won’t have to dust it or put it someplace.”
Let the holidays be full of the spirit of giving and gratitude.
Lauren Wantland is a licensed clinical social worker in the Behavioral Health Department at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.