This is not going to be the typical suggestions of take care of yourself, cut out unnecessary activities, get things done early, etc. Those might be useful practical suggestions but I have never thought they got to the core of what causes stress around the holidays. You probably know by now that my philosophy is: if you don’t know the cause of the problem, it is very difficult to resolve it. So this holiday season, let’s take a look at the some of these root issues together.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and New Years are imbued with memories. Typically these memories are of family get-togethers, pressures of gift-giving, and often tumultuous emotions. Whether we have conscious childhood memories of this time or not, the change in weather, in light, and the appearance of thanksgiving and holiday decorations can kindle some of these memoirs. While we may not have actual thoughts about the events at that time, the emotions and feelings in our bodies are solidly present. This five-step guide will guide you through some steps to be more conscious of your expectations and concerns so that you will be able to choose what type of holiday season you will have.
Having a Conscious Holiday
Think about what you really wanted most around the holidays as a child. (For example: “ I wanted my family to be happy. I just wanted everyone to have fun and be together. I wanted cool gifts.) Write down or type up three quick things that come to mind as you picture yourself as a child heading into this season.
Think about what your experience actually was. (For example: “My parents would always start out so excited but there was constant criticisms about how each of them was arranging the decoration, arguments about how much money was being spent, inevitably one parent would storm out and we wouldn’t be together on Christmas Day. I received fun toys but it wasn’t’ the same without my parents being happy.” Or “In my family, everything was perfect, though I think my mom paid a price n making it that way.” Write down or type up three quick things that come to mind as you picture yourself as a child watching the events unfold.
Think about your last two holiday seasons as an adult. Are there ways in which you might be perpetuating the experiences you had as a child? If so write down a few ways you think you might be contributing to negative aspects of the experience or parts of the experience that are stressful. (For example: “I want it to be a great holiday for my spouse and my children so I really stress myself out running around to make it perfect, spending too much money. The added extended family exposures and all of those complex relationships puts a lot of pressure on me.)
Think about the aspects of the entire situation you described above that you do have control over. Write down those things as well as what you can do differently this year. (For example: “I don’t have to make things perfect. Everyone is responsible for his or her own happiness. I am only going to make fewer dishes for Thanksgiving and ask people to bring a dish. I am going to set a budget with my spouse for holiday gifts and give my children a few, well-chosen gifts rather than spending too much. My children and family don’t care if every inch of the house is decorated. I will put up the decorations that are the most important to us and not put pressure on us to impress the neighbors with our glorious yard decorations. I will sit down and talk with family members about my expectations and get a clear idea of their expectations so we can come up with some compromises before then.) Write these down and then follow through.
Think about aspects of the holiday season that you have no control over and figure out if you have control over some aspect of the situation. (I can’t control how my father-in-law’s excess drinking makes him obnoxious but I can talk to my spouse about leaving early if he does. I can’t control my insane family but I can limit the time there.)
Write these down and make different plans.
Don’t be discouraged if despite all your best efforts, some things remained the same. It takes a very conscious effort to not slip into old patterns. Be encouraged by the few things you were able to do differently and build on those next year.
Please add your comments about what you have done to make things different or what seem like insurmountable challenges in your family. Perhaps our online community can be helpful to each other by sharing what has worked for you.