Surviving the Holiday Season
The period from Halloween to New Years Day can be a joyful, thankful, and happy time for some, yet also a time for sadness, tension, and pain for many others. Some individuals have pleasant memories while others have memories of disappointment. Additionally, holiday parties often center on drinking alcohol or eating sugary foods—which can be challenging for individuals recovering from various addictions. After 36-48 hours of family time, individuals may feel like they are reverting back to their adolescent self who has unfinished business and buried feelings or emotions with certain family members. In other words, childhood wounds have not healed and the holidays frequently trigger such memories.
During the holidays, it is also easy for individuals to compare their insides with someone else’s outsides. When these ideals and unrealistic expectations are formed, pain is exacerbated and pressures to perform or behave a certain way increased. The good news is that each negative feeling is workable, especially with intentional self-awareness and reflection. Consider the following tips for beating the holiday blues:
- Plan Ahead and Maintain a Regular Routine: Changes in schedules often result in stress and anxiety. When possible, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time, eat meals when you normally do, and do your other activities as usual (e.g., attending church). If you believe a social party may be triggering, have an escape plan and bring your own vehicle so you can leave when needed, or if you start to feel uncomfortable. Ask friends and family members to be “on-call” if you need some additional support. Come up with a good response or reply if someone asks why you aren’t drinking or engaging in a related holiday activity.
- Focus on the Present, Not the Past: Don’t forget who you are today. When you start feeling upset, give yourself a few minutes to walk away and assess whether childhood memories and behaviors are reemerging. Remind yourself that who you are today is not who you were back then, and that it is unnecessary to resume unhelpful family roles. Stay grounded in the present moment by doing one thing at a time (e.g., washing dishes) and focusing on physical sensations (e.g., temperature of the water on your skin). Let go of future party planning and worrying about things you cannot control.
- Modify Expectations: Reduce the pressure you put on yourself for wanting family gatherings and holiday parties to go It is impossible for everyone to get along perfectly, all the time, with everyone, as well as finding perfect gifts for friends, anticipating no travel delays, or that everyone will want holiday decorations. Practice accepting that life is unpredictable and that you aren’t responsible for someone else’s happiness.
- Relinquish your Need for Control: The need for control often results in unnecessary stress and typically ends in being disappointed. This holiday season, relinquish some control by not over-committing or over-extending yourself with too many responsibilities to complete.
- Set Yourself Up for Success: Eat before larger parties so that you don’t over-indulge. Tell your family ahead of time not to make certain remarks (e.g., what you are going to do after graduation; what you will do this summer) if it will create too much stress during the holidays. Be realistic in setting New Year’s resolutions. Set goals that are attainable, concrete, timely, and specific.
- Say No and Ask for Help: No one is super man or super woman, including you. It is normal and a sign of humanness when you ask for help and support. Consider what you need help with, such as shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping presents, and don’t be afraid to enlist family members. Remember, it is your holiday too, so practice saying no to activities, events, or parties that are more than you can handle this year.
- Eliminate Guilt and “Should” Statements: Should statements will only keep you stuck in mud. Give yourself a break this holiday season by not setting unrealistic and unreasonable standards on yourself to be happy and joyful 24/7 over the holidays. Give yourself permission to be authentic and real if you are struggling and having a hard time rather than pretending and faking that you are merry and cheerful.
- Do the Opposite of What You’re Feeling: If you are feeling sad, be kind to yourself and engage in pampering activities. If you are feeling helpless or angry, show compassion for others by volunteering at soup kitchens or donating to a worthy cause. When you are tired or lonely, consider taking a walk or going for a bike ride. If angry or irritated, practice deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Create Your Own Holiday Traditions and Rituals: If childhood or adult holidays in the past have been painful, consider making your own traditions and rituals. For example, watching your favorite Christmas movie on Christmas Eve or driving through Christmas lights the week before Christmas. Consider your values and how you can achieve a sense of purpose during this holiday season. Schedule activities that bring you happiness and make it an annual tradition. Traditions become very important for children of divorce.
- Reflect on the True Meaning of the Holidays: Looking happy all of the time, buying the most expensive and popular gifts, and having the perfect family traditions or interactions are unrealistic societal messages and result in unnecessary pressure. Engage in daily reflection about the true meaning and purpose of the holidays—a time to reconnect with family and friends, a time to be thankful for what you do have, and a time for giving to people who are less fortunate.