Articles of Interest

Here Come the Holidays!

By Jacinta Harman, MSW, LCSW, Director of Mental Health Outpatient Services

The Holidays – a phrase that can generate feelings of immense joy or extreme pressure. The burden of added expenses, juggling responsibilities, and increased STRESS (Stuff To Remember Every Single Second) makes this time of year hard to enjoy. It can be difficult to cultivate feelings of thankfulness and merriment right now, especially when we self-impose expectations that are impossible to achieve. Take a deep breath, slow down, and think about using the following strategies to help you have the holiday you want.

Change your thinking: Easier said than done, but you can take control of your day, your thoughts, and your reactions to a situation. Getting ready to face multiple stressors requires us to shift our thought patterns and respond to changes in our daily routine. Acknowledge that you feel as you do and know that this is temporary; it won’t last forever. It is empowering to realize you have a choice and that what you want is important. Your time is a valuable commodity – use it wisely.

Prioritize: Decide what is important to you. Be clear with yourself and others that participating in certain events is overwhelming and choose where you want to be. Question whether or not an activity is something you want/need to do – does it bring meaning to you and the people you spend time with? Give yourself permission to do what works for you – create new traditions that enhance the holiday experience.

Be honest: It’s not news that our families are not perfect, that someone is going to say something insensitive and that you may find yourself playing the role of peacemaker at some point. Chances are that other family members feel this dysfunction and have developed various strategies to cope with it. Some people are good at redirecting conversation; others assign tasks to keep difficult people pre-occupied; many use humor. Instead of denying the reality of family dysfunction, plan around it. Use the strengths of each person to minimize stress and reduce the potential for conflicts. Along these lines, take charge of the seating; it is more important than you think. Enlist the help of your family members. You are not alone in wanting things to go smoothly, and it will take some of the pressure off.

Simplify: Things don’t have to be complicated to have meaning. Be realistic in your expectations for yourself and others. Make choices that support the atmosphere you are trying to create, and stick with them. It really is okay to say “no.” The consequences may not be as dire as you imagine. Simplicity means letting go and trading a chaotic/busy life with a more fulfilling one.

Take good care of yourself: Take a little “me time.” When you do this, you nourish your spiritual, emotional, and physical self. Before the holidays even start, mark off time now that is designated for you. Even if you have no idea what you will do with this time, claim it as yours and use it as you choose. Be mindful of commitments you make and remember that you cannot give from an empty cup. Take a few minutes to decompress and recharge your batteries.

Develop an “Attitude of Gratitude.” Making a list of what you are grateful for is empowering and helps to generate feelings of appreciation. You are reading this article right now, which means you can see, you can read, and you are open to suggestions –a good start! Find the good in every day and savor the flicker of hope it inspires. Gratitude will do more than make you smile; it will give you the fortitude to keep life in balance as you navigate the complexities of the holidays.

How we view our circumstances is the first step in helping us to decide how to manage them. When we cultivate feelings of acceptance, it promotes lower levels of stress and translates into a shift in perspective. Accepting that the holidays are challenging helps us to retain our sanity and temper expectations. With a little planning and some imaginative social engineering (remember the seating), you may find a way to make things better by taking control and not overthinking. Traditions have to start somewhere – focus on what is important to you and remember that gratitude will help you find peace and turns what we have into enough.