For many, the holiday season is far from ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’. The expectation of sitting around a cozy home, under a big and abundantly decorated tree, snuggled in close to your favorite family members is far from a reality for most. Achieving this very image of holiday perfection can cause intense stress, and a real sense of failure if your family situation does not measure up. All the pressure to have laughter filling the air, can result in feelings of disappointment for anyone who doesn’t have the quintessential Hallmark movie family dynamic.
Everyone’s holiday plans are different, some people aren’t able to see their family this year due to pandemic restrictions and will be spending this season alone. While others, may be grieving the loss of a close family member or friend which can make this typically cheerful time, feel especially melancholic. There are people who will be spending time with their families where they do not feel emotionally safe for a multitude of reasons. As the old adage goes we can’t choose our families. Which makes suffering through a feast with relatives who share views that are damaging to your sense of self, feel quite isolating.
No family is perfect, and the holidays are an excellent reminder of that. Knowing you aren’t alone in finding this time of year challenging can reduce feelings of being a social outcast. Below are three additional tips to maintain mental health during this season:
Tip 1: Know and Reduce Triggers:
What you find triggering will vary depending on what you find most difficult about the holidays. For some, observing how other families are celebrating can make your own family’s celebrations feel inadequate. If that is the case, perhaps taking a break from social media over the holidays could be a therapeutic and empowering ritual. Others may find certain family members or topics of conversation to be triggering. Coming up with a plan to reduce these triggers is paramount for keeping the peace. This may challenge your ability to set boundaries by asking that certain conversations are avoided but know that the short term discomfort of setting your boundaries will pay off in the long term satisfaction of not having to endure grueling or difficult conversations. You can read more about setting boundaries here.
Tip 2: Try not to abandon healthy routines/habits:
It is common for our routines to get turned upside down during the holidays. We may have relatives staying with us, or we may be staying with them which unavoidably causes a disruption to our tried-and-true habits. But keep in mind, these habits are often grounding, so finding ways to incorporate them in some capacity throughout the holidays can help keep a sense of control and peace during this otherwise chaotic time. This can be something as simple as spending time getting ready in the morning, having a cup of coffee alone before visiting with family, reading before bed, drinking plenty of water, getting fresh air or incorporating movement into your day. It can be challenging to hold on to our routines 100% of the time over the holidays but keeping a few of your favorite grounding habits can be a source of comfort.
Tip 3: Write a gratitude list:
Even if things feel less than ideal, writing down what you are grateful for can be a humbling process. Gratitude is a staple in the world of positive psychology and practicing it regularly has been shown to increase positive emotions and improve well-being. By taking time to appreciate the good things in your life, no matter how big or small, builds happiness and self-esteem. Practicing gratitude can be a quick process of identifying three things that you are grateful for at the end of each day. It could be as simple as having an hour to yourself, wearing your favorite holiday dress, or feeling grateful for close friends if you do not feel particularly close to your family.
Acknowledging that the holidays can be tough, is a first step in helping to set realistic expectations for what we’re all about to face in the coming weeks. These realistic expectations can make it easier for us to identify our triggers and plan ways to reduce them. Remember that the “idealistic holiday image” is largely sold to us by corporations and various forms of media and is not rooted in the reality of what it means to be a part of a family.