By Lauren Presutti
The holiday season brings a lot of excitement with gift shopping, preparing family recipes, enjoying bright lights and decorations, and spreading love among each other in numerous ways. But for some people, the holidays can also bring feelings of grief, overwhelm, anxiety, or general feelings of chaos that make us feel overwhelmed and scattered. It’s okay to acknowledge that holidays can be hard for you. Even if you traditionally love this time of year, you may find yourself feeling drained from time to time, and that’s okay. There are many ways to deal with exhaustion so that we can keep ourselves mentally healthy, grounded, and at peace this season. The following strategies may be helpful.
First, it’s important to acknowledge our emotions around the holidays, whatever they may be. We must allow ourselves to feel disappointed, sad, or angry with our circumstances if these emotions surface. This may be especially relevant for those grieving the loss of loved ones. You will likely find more relief by getting things verbally out in the open (“I’m feeling sad about the holidays this year”), rather than fighting against how you feel. Sometimes when we talk about coping skills, people assume we have to distract ourselves and dissociate away from our negative feelings because we want those feelings to “go away.” While distraction can be helpful in brief moments of high stress, it would be unhealthy to rely on distraction as a long-term approach to managing emotions. A pattern of fighting against how we really feel might spiral into a trap of denying how we feel. We may pretend like everything is okay when we are actually suffering on the inside. We may not want to admit to even ourselves that we are feeling grief this holiday season. We may be telling ourselves that we are not allowed to be upset or that we shouldn’t feel this way. This is a problem because it will begin to feel very invalidating. It will likely feel like we are dismissing ourselves – and when we do that, we are actually amplifying our internal distress in the long run.
In other words, denying how we feel may feel good for a few minutes, but over time, we are going to start noticing the distress and resentment building up inside of us. If you have ever heard the phrase, don’t bottle up your emotions, that’s exactly what I mean. We don’t want to be creating a deep internal reserve of our feelings because in the long run, those emotions are going to become more and more intense.
Another important coping skill is maintaining a flexible mindset. This means that we might need to adjust our perfectionist expectations this holiday season and have a more open mind. Sometimes we find ourselves having a fantasy mindset, meaning that we are not flexible in our thinking, but rather our mindset is fixed (or rigid) and we are so focused on a perfect fantasy that we struggle to accept reality. For example, if you have highly specific expectations about this holiday season, you may be telling yourself that it is going to be perfect, you’re going to do everything right, everybody will be in agreement, there won’t be any misunderstandings, and everything will be blissful and easy to navigate. It would be great if that were true, but holding onto a fixed mindset that does not allow room for flexibility will hurt us in the long run.
The reality is that things are probably not going to be “perfect” this holiday season. Nothing is ever absolutely perfect, no matter how much we want it to be. It’s okay if you don’t find the “perfect gift” for someone, if you have to say no to an event, or if your home is less decorated compared to last year. Relieve yourself of the pressure to do everything perfectly. Rather than fantasizing about your ideal holiday season, allow yourself to be present in every moment, accepting whatever comes your way. Even if there are misunderstandings among you and other family members, maintain your flexible mindset and avoid arguing. Show others that you are committed to flexibility and you will likely have an easier time going with the flow of things. Above all, flexibility will help you avoid feeling panicked when something doesn’t go just right.
The holiday season brings more demands on us – our time, our finances, our emotions – and we have to think about how we are going to spend those resources to maximize our experience. Boundaries are the invisible dividing lines of what is and is not okay. We can have social boundaries, meaning we limit the interaction we have with other people, we can have financial boundaries, meaning we set a budget for ourselves, and we can have emotional boundaries, meaning we only engage in things to a certain point and then we step away when we start to feel emotionally agitated. Setting boundaries helps us maintain our limits for what we feel capable of handling.
Unfortunately, sticking to our boundaries can be challenging when other people are influencing us and peer pressuring us to extend more time and energy than what we feel we can handle. I want to remind you to practice sticking to your boundaries and don’t let other people influence you in these ways. Remember that you have to do what feels right to you. This holiday season, try to focus on the real meaning of the holidays – whatever it means to you. It might be gratitude, spiritual traditions, togetherness, giving back to the community in some way – or anything else. Focusing on how you find the holidays meaningful might help protect you during this time of increased demands.
From my home to yours, wishing you a safe, warm, and peaceful holiday season.