The holidays are just around the corner and there's something going on inside us. For some it may be mild and floating somewhere in the background. For others it may be very present and overwhelming all the time and building each day. Still others somewhere in between or perhaps back and forth between extremes. If your experience of the holidays is purely joy and celebration; then by all means make the most of this time to revel in the joys and whatever traditions allow you to create new memories for you and your loved ones.
For many folks, however, this time of year can be one of the most stressful. Old family rules and expectations can come flooding back and even throw those with lots of therapy or personal growth experience off kilter. Never mind many of the other complications that can add to the modern family holiday. Divorce, separation, loss, illness, current or past family conflicts, or perhaps your current life situation has taken an unfortunate turn and your plate is full enough that the last thing you feel like dealing with is the complications that come at this time of year. Even as professionals we can find ourselves lost for a bit and struggling to find that sage advice we seem to be able to give to our clients so easily. So...what can be done?
For starters, taking a step back and asking oneself the most important question necessary is the place to begin. "What do I need and want for myself in order to make this season less stressful?" Having that answer can provide the foundation from which to begin building a holiday season with reduced stress. It is typical to experience that inner conflict about what other’s may think or say about what we want for ourselves, either now or at some point in this process. No one can give us what we need for self-care but ourselves. It is up to us to decide for ourselves. Not everyone may be happy about it but worrying about that only creates more stress which is the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.
Next, give yourself permission to do the holidays imperfectly. Anytime we attempt to make changes in our lives we will inevitably encounter the unknown. Since it is change we are seeking there is no way of knowing everything that will happen nor how others will deal with our choices. Nor will be able to predict just how we will feel in midst of it all. So, we don't know what we don't know. Thus we WILL mess it up in some way compared to our expectations and other's expectations of us. The good news is that it is not the first time we have made any mistakes in our life and we've made it this far. We're still alive. No matter what, we will be OK on the other side.
Thirdly, consider what boundaries are needed to provide for the most realistic balance between your needs and what you can realistically handle. The following suggestions can get you started. You can pick one of the following or come up with one that fits your needs better this year.
Set a time limit for how long you will stay at someone's house.
Limit how many places you go or; how many people will you visit BEFORE you have overextended yourself. Do you even know where that line is? Is this the year to just become aware of where that line is?
Limit how much you will spend so that you are not creating financial difficulty for after the season is over. If you've already gone over that limit can you stop now and take it simply as the beginning of understanding where your limit might be?
Make sure to give yourself a little time to recharge before you have to get back to work or move back into the post-holiday routines.
Choose only the most positive and supportive people with whom to spend your time.
Most of all, create a plan for self-care. Setup some form of self-care to manage the regular inevitable stresses that WILL most certainly come. Then, decide what form it will take. Having a trusted person, a holiday de-stress partner can be invaluable. More than one is even better. Schedule regular check-in times where you each get a chance to vent and/or support each other. Make sure that you are clear about what you each need for the time you spend checking in and most of all, refrain from giving any unsolicited advice. As much as possible, be sure to give equal time to each other. Stick to the scheduled times as realistically as possible as this ensures that with all of the holiday busyness no one gets shortchanged. If unable to find a partner, at least take some time in a solitary activity that feels energizing for you whether it is active like exercising or more laid back like reading or meditation. This time of year is one many often spend time “binge watching” their favorite shows and/or movies. There is nothing wrong with some time to escape and unplug from the stresses of life. Be careful that any “escape time” is balanced with time for nurturing oneself, too. Spend time with yourself in some manner that connects with the best parts of you and feeds your soul in a positive way.
Whatever you decide to do this season to reduce your stress, pick only one thing to change that feels like a stretch and is realistic. Change is always difficult and many people set themselves up for failure by trying to change too many things at one time and/or taking on the most difficult task(s) in their lives rather than starting with an easier one and building from there. Once again, allow yourself to do it imperfectly and take any setbacks as learning opportunities for the next time. Trust yourself to know what you need to take care of yourself. Celebrate your successes along the way as you progress to your long term growth. You CAN learn to reduce your stress. Celebrate honest effort and the willingness to challenge your personal status quo. Remember we learn more from our failures than our successes AND no one changes anything overnight.