7 Tips to Survive the Holiday Season

7 Tips to Survive the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and while we may hope to experience it as a time of goodwill and cheer, for most people, there are at least some situations during the season that are fraught with anxiety, family conflicts, the disappointment of unmet expectations, or just plain old-fashioned stress. Here are some tips to help you get through those times as smoothly as possible:

  1. Manage your expectations. One of the main causes of depression, disappointment, and conflict is harboring unrealistic expectations.

    Images of the perfect holiday season are thrust upon us by Hallmark Channel movies, white-washed family memories, and most especially, advertisers. We want the holiday cheer, the family togetherness, and the aw-shucks experiences that we see in modern media. But year after year, we are deeply disappointed.

    This year, take a moment to consider what a terrible holiday season would look like, what an “okay” holiday season would look like, and what an amazing conflict and stress-free holiday season would look like. Your experience is likely to fall somewhere in each of these scenarios.

    Learn to take an accepting, “oh, well” approach. As in, “I was hoping Dad wouldn’t drink so much since he’s had so many health problems this year. Oh, well. He’s making his own choices and I can decide to leave early and do something fun if I want.”

    In practicing acceptance, you let go of the notion that everything is under your control and that all your expectations will be met. And you can breathe a sigh of relief.

  2. Practice radical self-care. Be vigilant about how your take care of yourself this season. Putting your self-care practices ahead of other priorities that seem more pressing is not selfish, it’s smart.

    Think of all the ways you take care of yourself and be intentional about keeping them in your daily routine. It can be anything from regular workouts, leisurely walks, meditation, or daily devotionals to smaller, seemingly minor things like meeting a friend for lunch or spending a few minutes playing with your dog.

    Refresh yourself though out the season and on a regular basis. Make it a goal to practice at least one self-care activity, no matter how small, every day.

  3. Get outside. With the return to standard time and the shortened days, we get much less light in the late fall and winter months. Research shows this lack of sunlight can directly affect our mood.

    I regularly tell my clients to make a concerted effort to get more light. Even 10-15 minutes a day can make a huge difference in our overall well-being.

    Take a quick walk outside, go out into the yard with your dog when you let him out, open your curtains wide in the middle of the day and notice the sunlight flooding the room. Make it a goal to get 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight every day.

  4. Evaluate your traditions and rituals. Situations change and often, we find ourselves clinging to traditions and rituals that no longer make sense for us.

    If your tradition is to be out the door at 3 a.m. to shop on Black Friday, but you no longer have as many Christmas presents to buy or you’ve been trying to watch what you spend all year long this year, find another tradition to replace Black Friday. Sleep late. Watch movies with your kids. Or do whatever you want to do.

    If you’ve always hosted the Christmas Eve gathering for your extended family that always goes later than you want it to, but this year you’d rather celebrate Christmas Eve quietly with your spouse and children, then celebrate Christmas Eve quietly.

    Yes, you’ll likely get resistance. And resistance is stressful. Remind yourself that change is okay: “My aunts and uncles say Christmas won’t be the same if they don’t come to my house. It’s okay. I’m doing what I know is right for me this year.”

    Ask friends what holiday traditions they have. Watch funny movies every Saturday night leading up to Christmas. Find a new neighborhood or part of town to ride through and admire Christmas lights. Change up the traditional holiday meals. Have chili instead of turkey on Thanksgiving.

    Adding or changing traditions can be a fun way to get creative about how you spend the holiday. It also helps manage expectations about how things “should” be.

  5. Related to evaluating traditions is setting limits. If the idea of spending all day Christmas Day at your Great Aunt Edna’s re-hashing the same family memories that you just re-hashed while sitting around and feeling overstuffed at Thanksgiving makes you cringe, set a limit of a 2 hour visit. Or decide that Thanksgiving Day was enough time at Great Aunt Edna’s and do something else on Christmas Day.

    If you’ve been invited to attend three holiday gatherings on the same day but, in practicing radical self-care, you decide you only have enough energy for one, then attend only one.

    Practice the “oh well” technique with yourself here if you need to: “I know all three of these parties will be fun, but I only have the energy to attend one. Oh, well. I go to the one, have fun there, and feel rested the next day.”

  6. And related to setting limits is stick to your routine. During the holidays, it’s tempting to stay out late, drink more than usual, eat more than usual, and let go of chores and daily habits.

    When we start to let things slide throughout the season, we tend to get more stressed, anxious, and even depressed. The more you stick to your routine, the easier it will be to get back into the groove in January.

  7. Enlist support. Talk to your spouse, significant other, friend, or anyone you trust about some of the changes you’re thinking of making. They can give you guidance in navigating the holidays and ideas of how to do things in different way.

    Sometimes it’s hard for us to see things clearly when we’re very close to the situation. Having someone to talk to can make all the difference.

    If you find yourself needing additional support, consider seeking counseling. Your therapist can help you learn skills to manage the depression and anxiety that often creeps up around the holidays.

Be kind to yourself during the holiday season. And for more information on how to implement changes you want to make in your life in a way that will actually stick, click here.

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