The Holiday season is among us, and we can once again expect a bombardment of picture perfect representations of this time period everywhere we look. The truth is that an overwhelming majority of us do not experience such joyful moments throughout this season, and many of us actually dread this time as it can be a painful reminder of grief, loss, financial instability, political divisiveness, and bring together those who have hurt one another and with whom would otherwise not interact. There is most definitely a reason that inpatient and outpatient psychiatric facilities see a spike in referrals either during, or right after this time as the dust settles. However, working to see the bigger picture and not be completely infected by the Grinch, there are still ways to appreciate and enjoy this stressful time.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Take a Step Back from the Holidays
One way to do this is to give yourself permission to not enjoy the holidays. This may sound counterproductive, but it's crucial to remember that you are not obligated to put on a brave face and force happiness. In doing this, you give yourself a greater sense of agency and autonomy which are prerequisites for happiness in the first place. You are allowed to grieve, and you are allowed to feel whatever emotions come up for you during this time. Acknowledge your feelings, work through them in a healthy way, whether that be through scheduling extra time talking to your therapist, writing in a journal, or spending time with supportive loved ones.
2. Establish Healthy Boundaries with Family Members
Another way to manage stress during this season is by establishing boundaries with toxic family members. If there are people in your life who consistently bring up trauma or make you feel anxious, it is okay to distance yourself from them. You can set boundaries by being clear and assertive about what you are and are not comfortable with. This might mean setting a time limit on visits, refusing to discuss certain topics, or excusing yourself from situations that make you feel overwhelmed. And if you get roped into a political discussion it is important to remember that most extreme political opinions are just channels for that individual's household traumas and issues that have yet to be resolved, and are symbolized through the polarized stances they take. It can become quite easy to take such comments in a personal way, but it's never not an opportunity to grow whether you challenge your own rigidity on a certain topic, or learn how to mindfully notice your feelings in response to someone else agreeing to disagree.
3. Spend Time with Supportive Individuals
Finally, it is essential to seek out support from friends and family who make you feel good. Spend time with people who make you laugh, who are supportive, and with whom you share positive memories. These people will help remind you of the good in the world and provide a much-needed reprieve from the stress of the holiday season. If you have anxiety about not providing adequate gifts, despite what the commercials show, thoughtfulness in gift giving will also go further than expense. Take time to think about what loved ones could really benefit from all year round, or what their soul needs, and you'll find that those things are usually much cheaper and sometimes even free to make yourself.
The holiday season does not have to be all bad. Yes, it can be overwhelming and stressful, but there are ways to cope. Give yourself permission to not feel obligated to enjoy the holidays, establish boundaries with toxic family members, and seek out support from positive people in your life. These things will help you get through this season and remind you of the fact that there is always something to appreciate and for which to be grateful.
Sean O'Connor is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.
Sean specializes in sports psychology and trauma informed counseling to helps adults and athletes overcome anger, depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress.
Sean loves working with athletes and survivors of childhood trauma and helps them heal from the past, love the present, and have hope for the future.