Starting in mid-November, there are many a holiday to celebrate. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve all happen between the middle of November and the end of the year. These holidays man filled with wonderful traditions, seasonal magic, treasured togetherness, and heartwarming nostalgia. Everyone has different things they look forward to most and different memories of what has made this season special throughout the years. Some people look forward to the wintertime holidays every year, planning gatherings months in advance, and counting down the days till they can begin decorating.
No matter where you fall on the excitement scale, there is probably something about this time of year that you enjoy or at least that you want to enjoy. It can be a tricky time of year for those who are grieving, those who are separated from their loved ones, those who are having a tough time, and many more tough situations. This can also quickly become a time of year that is so overloaded with anticipation, plans, and demands that all the magic of the season seems to fizzle. Whether you are trying to attend everyone’s gatherings, searching for “the perfect gift,” overworked with year-end tasks, or some combination thereof, you may experience stress and chaos instead of your intended peace on earth.
When Holidays Become too Stressful:
Holidays can become too stressful in many ways. You might have increased social gatherings and engagements that take a toll on you, and you feel like you are being pulled in ten different directions.
Between school events like holiday shows, office holiday parties, Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, and more, there may feel like there is little time for rest and relaxation. What is toughest about this is that at least a small part of you wants to participate in all these things! You want to experience the magic of the season with the people you love who positively impact your life year-round. Remember, the higher the stakes, the more space for anxiety.
The financial stressors of gift-giving can also take a toll. This year, the world is struggling with high levels of inflation. The impact this has on the majority of us is huge. While the holidays can often come with a hefty price tag, 2022 might be hurting your wallet a little more than you are used to.
Your work situation may play a part in your stress, even as you want to pick up more hours in order to alleviate some of your financial worries. Many deadlines come due this time of year, or there is pressure to wrap up certain projects before the new year. Many people take holidays during this time, and others have to cover for them. This increased workload and/or increased amount of time spent at work may not give you the space you need to look forward to the holidays and may even interfere with your plans.
Last but not least, the holidays can be stressful if you are missing someone in your life. Grief has a way of causing specific pains during a season that is so often sold to us as “the most wonderful time of the year.” Amidst twinkling lights and sparkling ornaments, we may feel particularly out of place and isolated if we are suffering from the darkness that is grieving. We may feel that it is a dishonor to someone we love who has passed away, or we may want to honor their memory with happiness but feel paralyzed by our emotions. There isn’t much room at a holiday party to be sad, but staying home and missing the party doesn’t help, either. This inner conflict can add worry and mental exhaustion to existing depression.
3 Ways to Turn Holiday Chaos into Holiday Joy
1) Set intentions for the holidays:
Intentions are guiding principles that help us make decisions more meaningfully. If you don’t have clarity on your needs and intentions, then you can be easily influenced by outside factors. Knowing your intention gives you a target to focus on, even if the target is far away at times or other things are happening to try to pull your focus.
Setting an intention isn’t just about deciding how something will go and then sitting back and crossing your fingers. By setting intentions for the holidays, you are deciding what you want to focus on during this holiday season. This may require you to reflect on this year or at least the last few months to identify your experiences, their impact on you, and how you are feeling today. Once you have these, you can set an intention that aligns with where you currently are.Some of this intention-setting allows you to prioritize and give yourself permission to let things go.
Knowing your intention allows you to get specific. It’s one thing to say, “I want to be happy over the holidays,” – but how do you break that down? Intentions that support your goal to
be happy may look like: making sure to prioritize the most important events, creating space for self-care, knowing who you want to make sure you connect with, and walking away from situations and/or conversations that upset or harm you. An intention is also not a guarantee; a lot of our disappointment in this season comes from having our high expectations disappointed. Setting intentions provides guidance but allows us to accept that it may not work out the ideal way we would want it to. Having that gentleness with yourself eases some of the mental stress of needing to “do it all” during the holidays.
When you say, “It is my intention to make sure I see my parents and my best friend,” then you can look at your schedule and determine for yourself if what you are considering aligns with and supports your intention. If it doesn’t, then you can consider if you are truly okay with setting your intention aside. There may be unavoidable situations. But with the right amount of self-awareness and boundary-setting, you should be able to follow through with your most important intentions.
2) Set and hold boundaries:
Once you set your intentions, it is important to set those boundaries with yourself and others. It can be easy to get caught up in people-pleasing or feeling disorganized and then completely lose sight of what is actually most important to you. Setting boundaries is a lifelong practice and a skill that can feel especially tested during the holiday season.
You may have to tell certain people in your life that you can’t attend their function, help with their clothing drive, or attend their child’s school concert. You may even feel that in a different circumstance, you’d like to participate in these things. But if they don’t fit in your schedule and align with your intentions, you aren’t able to make them work. Be clear and firm, and gracious about it. “I’m sorry, I’m unavailable at that time” or a simple “No, thank you” is a perfectly acceptable response.
This is a time of year when many of us tend to see people we don’t see as often (or at all) throughout the year. This can feel overwhelming as we try to converge our needs with people who have differing wants and needs as well, not to mention political opinions, work situations, relationship statuses, and more. It can be tricky to advocate for ourselves. Do we want to “cause a fuss” with someone we won’t see for another twelve months after this? Will our dad be upset if we tell his sister that we disagree with her opinions of our most recent election? Is it worth it to be upset by someone’s boyfriend at a work party? They might not even be together next year. The social dynamics at the events can be wearing and bring up triggers and issues from years ago.
You may feel inundated with food and body talk at this time of year; there are a lot of delicious sweets and savories around, and most people are also typically planning the diet they’ll start on the first day of January (and statistically abandon by the third week). If you don’t want anyone to comment on what’s on your plate or how much of it, you have every right to set that boundary. Make a plan; will you ask someone you trust to be your sidekick? Will you excuse yourself to use the washroom or get fresh air if the conversation turns in that direction? Will you plan to change the subject or maybe educate the other person?
This year, you may be feeling the need for more space and self-care time than ever before. You may determine that the best way for you to achieve that is to step back from almost all of your usual social events. There is no reason why you cannot show love and care to those who are most important to you while also making space for yourself. If your boundary is that you need a certain amount of alone time, a certain amount of time to spend doing something that helps you relax, or that you are only comfortable with a small and select group of people, then that is your boundary, and you have the right to firmly and politely advise people of it.
3) Stay in the present moment:
At our therapy practice in Woodland Hills, we use many different tactics, skills, and schools of thought to help our clients. Staying in the present moment is one of our favorite and
most beneficial mindfulness skills to discuss and educate our clients about. We see firsthand from our clients (and let’s be honest, in our own lives as well) that anxiety can make us dwell in the past or worry endlessly about the future. Our anxious minds can replay every scenario ten times to make sure we didn’t make a mistake, didn’t say the wrong thing or didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. What is worse is that the past is done, and there would be nothing to be done to change it if we had. Living in the past or the future is what adds to your feelings of stress, burnout, and exhaustion. There really is no other shortcut to finding more peace and calm in your life than bringing your attention to the present moment.
Here are some ways you can do that: engage in any activity that allows you to be in the present moment. This is what we call any activity becoming a meditative one. Like a walk, dancing, reading a book or stretching. You want to ensure your mind is paying attention to your breathing and centered where your feet are. These are tactics and activities that you can schedule while you are making plans and committing to social obligations. Having this time set aside for this practice does two things: number one, it ensures that you have some mindful time every day, and number two, it strengthens your ability to stay in the present moment, which you can also use at social gatherings.
If you are distressed about a work function that took place two nights ago, you are not present at whatever you are doing now. The same goes if you are worried about what you have to get done tomorrow. When you find your mind wandering to the next social gathering, the list of errands on your phone, the dirty dishes you didn’t get to before coming to this holiday party, or whatever it may be, stop. Take some deep breaths to connect with your body. Focus on your senses and utilize them to identify your surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste? Remind yourself that your intention is to enjoy this function. That you prioritized being here and that you want to have a good time. Talk to yourself kindly; “I deserve to enjoy my evening here; this is not the time to worry about that,” or, “I have enough time to think about that later. For now, I am going to enjoy myself”.
Let’s be real: this time of year is always busier if you are someone who enjoys festive activities and/or has a lot of families to see. And you may be someone who loves to participate in all of it! That doesn’t mean that you can’t feel overwhelmed by everything. The trick is to stay in a mindful mindset. Prepare yourself mentally for the busy schedule, the social dynamics of different groups, the reunions with acquaintances, and all the rest. Continue to return to your list of top priorities, your intentions, and your boundaries. Make time to reflect, decompress, and meditate – do it as often as you can. Sneak in a five-minute meditation if that’s all you have. Listen to a podcast you enjoy on your commute to a family dinner. Enjoy what matters to you in ways that work for you, and be proud of yourself for doing so!
Anxiety treatment in Woodland Hills, CA, is a personal time, and personal safe space for you to work on having a better relationship with yourself, your feelings, and your ideal life. We offer individual, couple’s, or group therapy for adults at Embracing You Therapy.
Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coodinators. Meanwhile, check out our blog library for more readings on anxiety therapy!
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