The holidays often carry a mixed bag for people. While ideally, it is a time of greater awareness of friends, family, and gratitude unfortunately it can trigger quite the opposite. Whether it is the memories it elicits, emptiness it exudes, or stress it creates the holidays are not necessarily all holly jolly for all.
So as we enter the season from Thanksgiving through the New Year it might serve us (and those in our sphere of influence) to stop and prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, and even physically for the highs and possible lows.
We know that often our mental health is best preserved when our expectations are realistic and we have prepared in advance for that which we may encounter. While it is unfortunate that we have to apply this to what we would hope is a joyful time, sometimes a healthy dose of reality goes a long way.
- One suggestion is to start by asking yourself what you would like your holiday to encompass, what to you is most important– is there a theme (family first, in all things gratitude), a word (peace, generosity, home), a mantra (don’t sweat the small stuff, this will pass, present over perfect), that you want to define the upcoming weeks? If we don’t decide in advance what defines our holiday then likely those around us (family, society, culture, the media) will define it for us. Whatever you choose focus on breathing deeply and repeating this regularly. Whatever you choose can also be the compass when you are making decisions— going or not going, giving or not giving, engaging or not engaging.
- Next, as you reflect on prior years and barriers to fully enjoying the holiday season ask yourself if any of those challenges can be eliminated, reduced, or planned for? One less day at home with extended family, one more day of advanced packing and organizing, one less holiday party attended, one more quiet walk during the vacation. Einstein said it best, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” so if your holidays have been wrought with tension consider a change.
- Reflect on how you have taken care of your nutrition, hydration, sleeping, and exercise during prior holiday seasons. It goes without saying there will be a late night here and a holiday treat there, but if you can, try to continue some amount of routine/normalcy with those important things as opposed to a holiday free for all. We can handle external chaos better if we aren’t experiencing internal chaos as well.
- If you are entering this season with difficult emotions — sadness, anger, loneliness, fear, loss– take extra care with yourself. Approach yourself gently, as you would a good friend. Allow breaks from the action, build in time to recharge in whatever way helps you personally, connect with people, places, and things that bring you comfort. Above all avoid the temptation to shame or “should” yourself about how you feel (I should be happy) and instead validate your emotional state and what you may be needing at this time.
Our hope is that you won’t need these tips. Our hope is that your heart will be light and full as you celebrate gratitude, family, friends, and traditions both old and new, but if at times you find it is not, know that you are not alone and try a new approach this season.