There’s a chill in the air, the sky becomes dark earlier, and Christmas decorations have been on display in department stores since September. Some days, things feel quiet, even peaceful, but then suddenly it feels like we are hurtling toward the holidays at the speed of light. The countdown has begun, and though many feel the joy of the season, others experience a tremendous amount of stress and even dread about the coming festivities. Here are some tips to keep you happy (and sane!) during the most wonderful (and busy!) time of year:
Reconsider what you value in the holidays
What would an ideal holiday look like for you? Does it involve customs and rituals that are normally practiced, or would you prefer to make your own rules? Be honest with yourself, and identify what it is you really want, not just what you think you should do. Maybe for Thanksgiving, you enjoy going the traditional route by creating an extravagant meal and entertaining as many people as possible, but maybe you’d prefer to have a smaller meal with a close-knit group of friends. It’s possible that food is not even central to your holiday! The key is to get really clear on what you would enjoy the most. Once you’ve done that, create a plan for implementing some of your imagined day. Sometimes we might worry that doing things a bit differently for the holiday may upset some of our loved ones. One way to tackle an issue like this is to communicate. Approach your family, share your ideas, and if problems arise, come to reasonable compromises. It’s important for you to have things in the holiday celebrations that make you happy, so learn to honor those desires.
Do as many tasks ahead as possible: This year for my family, we let go of a yearly tradition of having family photos taken for our holiday card and instead decided to use a great snapshot from a summer trip. That will allow me to order and address cards much earlier; it’s also much less expensive! Are there things around the house that need to get done or can be abandoned completely? Check in with yourself and ask why something is important. Often we do things out of habit and don’t stop to periodically assess the importance of the task. If it can wait until after the holidays, let it!
The holidays can bring up so many different emotions, including uncomfortable ones. Sometimes there are family issues such as divorce or alcoholism that resurface, while others may feel the pain loss or loneliness that always seems to strike harder at this time of year. If you are aware of events or interactions that are unhealthy for you, either bow out completely or substantially limit your participation. If you anticipate that grief or loneliness will create struggle for you, reach out to your closest friends and ask for support. Speak up about your needs; they matter as much as anyone else’s. It’s OK (and a good idea!) to ask for what will support you during this time.
Less is More
Christmas is primetime for marketing; we are bombarded by advertisements to spend, spend, spend. But it’s important to evaluate how much we are truly comfortable (emotionally and financially) buying things for our friends and family members. Rather than purchasing gifts, consider the gift of your time. Explore options that are handmade rather than store-bought. If you knit, maybe making scarves for friends and family is a better choice than shopping and spending. Gifts of baked goods can also be wonderful Perhaps have a Girls’ Night Out or dinner with friends instead of exchanging gifts. Explore where you can provide your companionship or something personal, rather than the typical gift.
Don't be afraid to say no
There’s no shortage of activities and parties during the holiday season, and it can be difficult to say no and prioritize you! You do not have to accept every invitation. Pick two or three experiences that sound truly enjoyable to you and do those. Set aside an evening or a day to relax and re-charge. Remember, when we take care of ourselves, we are even more present with those that matter.
This season is a wonderful time to spend with loved ones, celebrate our beliefs, and create new memories. Reminding ourselves of these ideas can help us re-focus when stress threatens to dampen the holiday spirit.
Dr. Traci Lowenthal is the owner of Creative Insights Counseling, a counseling agency in Redlands serving individuals, families, and couples. She can be reached at 909-240-7833.