Let’s thrive together this holiday season, not just survive!
The holidays can be filled with both joy and pain. Festive Christmas decorations and sipping hot cocoa by the fire can feel so comforting and joyful, while wishing you could enjoy it together with a lost loved one or anticipating difficult family relationships can feel so painful. So, how do we navigate this season while trying to hold these two very in congruent emotions simultaneously?
It can feel messy, overwhelming, and downright unpleasant! I (Jesse) think that’s why so many people (including myself) find themselves uttering the phrases, “I’m just trying to survive this season” or “I just need to get through this!”. Quite honestly, it breaks my heart! I love this time of year, just not all the messiness that comes with it. So, how can we thrive in the midst of these challenging but beautiful holidays, rather than just survive?
To be honest, I am still trying to answer this question and it changes every year. However, here are a few tips I’ve used over the years to maximize joy while still holding space for the pain.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. Mindfulness has been a hot topic in the holistic health world for a while now, and for good reason. Not to sound cliche, but adopting a mindful approach to my anxiety has literally changed my life. Several years ago, the impending holiday season would fill me with dread and anxious thoughts. How am I going to make everyone else happy? What if I miss out on activities because I’m tired? I have to do x, y, and z thing to feel I did the holidays “right”! Am I spending enough time with the people in my life? Phew! That thought loop is exhausting! My stomach was in knots and the whole season passed me by while I was wrapped up in fears and anxieties of missing out. Ironic right? So what does being mindful really look like? Just being. It’s okay to simply feel how you feel, not trying to change it. Now, when I feel anxiety start to gurgle in my stomach or my thoughts, I simply pause and notice it; thinking, “hm, I’m starting to feel anxious.” That’s it. I don’t try to figure out why or how to make it go away. Just taking the step to become aware of what you are feeling (grief, anxiety, depression, fear) immediately puts space between you and that emotion, allowing you to breathe a little more easily.
A Note about Grief: Its okay to miss your loved one this time of year, in fact its completely normal. Sometimes ritualizing grief and creating a memorial in remembrance of your loved one can be a way of acknowledging your loss and sadness while honoring their memory. Did they have a favorite kind of Christmas cookie? Maybe bake them in their memory and give them away to a local homeless shelter. Light a candle every night and talk to them while you eat dinner. If it helps, find a way to incorporate the rituals you would do together to honor the memories while still making new ones.
Setting Boundaries = A Happy and Healthy You! I am an introvert in a family of extroverts. I get overstimulated after too much noise and need to be alone for a little while to recharge. You know Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yeah, well after too much partying I turn into Mr. Hyde and need to go away for a while. This can be a challenge with you’re staying with your extroverted family for a week over Christmas. So, after many years of practicing mindfulness I am now aware of when I start to feel overwhelmed and need to step away from the festivities. Sometimes this looks like going for a run, reading a favorite book in my room, or just taking a nap. It’s also okay to say “No” this time of year. You don’t and, quite frankly, can’t say “Yes” to absolutely everything. Pick and choose the activities or requests that will feed you and bring you joy.
Don’t Forget to Make Time for Yourself. Making time for family and friends can be a big part of this season. Spending time and reconnecting with loved ones can feed the soul and bring so much joy, but don’t forget to make time for yourself and the things that are important to you! I love being with my family and friends, but often I find myself spending most of my time this season trying to meet everyone else’s expectations. This can get so exhausting. So, when I’m finally with my loved ones, I end up silently fuming over the fact that I didn’t have time to do any of the activities that were important to me this season! If I’m neglecting myself in the process of making everyone else happy, who am I really helping? So if you want to drive around to look at Christmas lights or go see that show with your partner, then make it a priority! Do what feeds your soul and brings you joy this season, and everyone in your life will benefit.