It’s that time of year again. I don’t know about you, but retailers around me were setting out holiday decorations in August and playing Christmas music on October 30th. My clients have started to come into the office with the “holiday dread.” And so I wanted to get on top of this early.
If you feel dread in your heart when you hear the first Christmas music start, or if your pulse rate goes up when you see holiday decorations in the stores, this post is dedicated to you. If you have ever looked ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas and felt overwhelmed by the expectations of “quality family time,” this post is for you. If you feel left out of the “joyous season,” because you’re alone, or in pain, or experiencing conflict with loved ones, this post is for you.
This isn’t a post about how to get organized, or how to create a Martha Stewart holiday home with popcorn and newspaper. There are lots of great writers who have offered good suggestions about those kinds of things. Instead, this is a post about good self-care, during a time when lots of folks struggle with self-care.
So here are a few of my favorite self-care suggestions for this challenging time of year:
1. Understand the enemy. I hear many folks say, “I hate the holidays.” But what that means in real life is different for each person. Some people feel overwhelmed by the commercialization of the holiday season. Some are dreading spending mandatory time with difficult relatives. Some are feeling sad or lonely, and out of step with a season that bills itself as being about “peace and joy.” I encourage you to take some time with yourself to really understand what your struggle with the holidays is about. Once you know that, you have the information you need to do good self-care.
2. Use targeted coping. Once you have identified more clearly what makes the holidays hard, you can focus your coping and self-care around that issue. If the hardest part of the holidays is your family time, look for ways that either reduce family time or counterbalance it. If you struggle with the commercialization and the pressure to “buy, buy, buy,” maybe you can cut down on your gifts or focus on gifts with meaning. You may also choose to avoid radio stations that play constant holiday music, and try to consolidate your stopping trips. If you are struggling with grief or loneliness, it may be important to connect with others who understand that the holiday season can be full of as much pain as joy, through support groups, therapy, etc.
3. Know your priorities. This is a time of year where you may feel bombarded with other people’s expectations. Your family & friends may have expectations. The retailers certainly set expectations (think Hallmark commercials & cars wrapped in bows). Between the expectations of others and your own expectations, you can begin to feel stretched and stressed. It is important to take the time to identify your own priorities. What matters to you during November & December? There are tons of possible answers (family time, avoiding family time, traditions, connecting with faith communities, being left alone, making it through without extra pain). What matters is understanding your answer and your priorities.
4. Set your boundaries. Once you know your priorities, then you can take concrete action to set your own boundaries. This is going to look different for each person. If you have a challenging family, you may decide to limit the amount of time that you spend with them–and refuse to take on any guilt or drama that they may wish to share. If your primary stress is money, then you may choose to stick to a strict holiday budget, and put your energy into creating good memories and holiday experiences. If your previous holiday seasons have included feeling rushed and over-scheduled, you may choose to limit the commitments you take on, and scale back on plans. If your priority this year is to avoid the holidays as much as possible, you can choose what radio stations to listen to, decline holiday party invitations, and find others who also would just like the season to pass on by.
5. Don’t forget your self-care. Many people tend to drop the self-care ball when they feel overwhelmed. Exercise routines go out the window because you have so many holiday commitments (and it’s cold out!!). Healthy eating gets lost in a mountain of holiday treats. Down time to rest, recharge, meditate, etc–it gets lost if you’re scheduled to the max day in and day out. If the holidays are a difficult time for you, that makes self-care even more critical. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list, whether it’s to take the time to make a healthy meal, get outside for some fresh air, stop by a yoga class. I’m not picky about how you do self-care, just make sure it’s included in your holiday plans.
6. Remember that this is temporary. Whether you love the holidays and just feel overwhelmed or you wish you could entirely skip the last two months of the year–it’s important to remember that this will pass. It’s called a season because it is transitory. So, as you practice listening to yourself, identifying your priorities, and setting your boundaries–remember that this is temporary. Include good self-care on a regular basis, and you’ll be able to outlast the holidays.
If you’ve taken yourself through all of the steps above, and it still just feels incredibly hard, that might be a sign that it’s time to get some extra support. Check out local support groups, call a friend, or make an appointment with a therapist. This is a tough time of year for many of us–you don’t need to face it alone.
This week’s challenge is to identify one way that you can make the upcoming holidays more enjoyable–or at least, less stressful. Please feel free to share your favorite holiday coping strategies in the comments.
Photo Credit: Shattered3 by Brandie! via Flickr