Usually, the holidays are full of joyous celebrations. But sometimes, we find ourselves stressed, sad, or disappointed. While there is no quick way to get rid of these feelings, there are things you can do to minimize the challenges that come with it.
Navigating challenging family dynamics
One of the hardest parts of the holidays can be family gatherings. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 55, when you meet your parents, most people revert to childhood patterns – and it’s not always healthy.
Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you probably have a choice about whether to participate in family activities. If the only reason you plan to attend an event is to please others, remember that your feelings are important, too. This is a very good time to stop being a people-pleaser. If toxic relationships in your family are bringing you nothing but pain, skip family gatherings.
Another option is to prepare an exit strategy. Keep visits short or plan ahead so that you can leave if the dynamics become unfavorable for you. Let’s say you have a family member who regularly drinks too much and becomes belligerent or inappropriate. If you know this is likely, you can be prepared to take action instead of trying to figure it all out in the moment. For example, you might want to drive yourself instead of taking someone else for a ride. And, you may want to set up an alternate place to live if you have to leave.
If you have children, they always learn from the actions you take. When you stand up for yourself by removing yourself from a bad situation, you teach them to create and enforce healthy boundaries.
Many people think that what they need from relatives is love. All they need is respect. To earn the respect of your family, you must first respect yourself. When I work with marriage counseling clients, I always tell them that they are allowed to say anything that maintains their own dignity and that of their spouse. Although you don’t have the right to be cruel, you do have the right to share your feelings.
Honoring the loss
If the holidays bring up sad memories, allow yourself to experience them. Give yourself permission to be sad. Just because holiday movies end Happily Ever After doesn’t mean it’s like that in real life. If your emotions are so overwhelming that you don’t feel like you can – get out of bed, go to work, see friends – consider making an appointment with a counselor. We can help you cope with some of these difficult emotions. If you need to talk to someone right away, call the local crisis line at 855-838-0404. If you are feeling stressed, isolated, overwhelmed, or need non-crisis support, call the hotline at 707-472-2311.
Managing financial stress
Another difficult part about the holidays can be the feelings that come around not having enough money to provide the experience you want for your loved ones, feelings like guilt, anger, sadness, disappointment.
Sometimes, shifting your focus from giving “things” to giving yourself helps. Teaching children how much fun volunteering can be brings great joy to everyone. Make homemade holiday cards and give them to neighbors. Bake cookies and donate them.
The holidays end eventually
Even though it feels like the holidays will go on forever, they won’t. Try to maintain your healthy routine – get enough sleep, exercise, eat well – and eventually, the holidays will come to an end.
If things get too hectic, set limits for yourself. For example, once it comes to your bedtime, stop wrapping presents 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 make you feel good — take a drive and look at holiday lights and decorations. Make crafts. Take a walk. Create experiences that you enjoy, and if you have children, let them be a part of the preparation, even if it takes longer. Make food late. Make everything late. Savor the moment.
As we get older, it becomes easier to see how experiences are truly gifts. A woman I know said to her grandchildren, “Just kiss me. Then I don’t have to dust it off or put it somewhere.”
May the holidays be filled with the spirit of giving and gratitude.
Lauren Wantland is a licensed clinical social worker in the Behavioral Health Department of MCHC Health Centers – a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center that offers medical, dental, and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.