Tis the season to overindulge, overspend, overstress, and just plain overdo. For obvious reasons, this leaves most adults feeling tired, pressured, anxious, overwhelmed, and maybe even a little despondent. In other words, the supposedly joyous holiday season is not always so joyous, despite societal, personal, and familial expectations to the contrary. No matter how hard we try to mimic the holiday perfection of a Norman Rockwell painting, we’re going to have a few disheartening, Grinch-like moments, and there’s not a thing we can do to stop it. And thanks to all of this stress and disappointment, we might start to feel a little bit crazy.
If that’s the case for you, you’re definitely not alone. Heck, even good old Charlie Brown needed a little Peanuts-style therapy at Christmas. The good news is that you don’t have to drop a nickel into Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help” can to get some useful advice. Instead, you can simply follow the six tips provided below:
- Spend meaningful time with friends and family. Sure, the shopping would go faster without your sister and your mom along, and baking cookies would be a lot easier without your kids “helping” you, and you could wrap all of your family’s gifts a lot faster if your spouse wasn’t watching over you and saying, “No, use this bow with that wrapping paper,” etc. But the holiday season will feel more real (you’ll feel more connected to the holidays and to your loved ones) if you share these important tasks. In fact, doing some of the more boring chores with loved ones can transform them from “necessary tasks” into fun family bonding.
- Schedule, but be flexible. Giving yourself and your family a holiday schedule is a great idea. That way, everyone knows that you’ll spend some quality time together, what you’ll be doing, and when that will occur. This is especially useful if you have children, who, whether they admit it or not, typically want a balance between their social life and life at home. That said, you’ll need to be flexible, especially with tweens and teens, as things that seem much more important to them will inevitably pop up at the last minute. You might also want to have some activities that can be undertaken spontaneously during an unexpectedly slow afternoon or evening. Making felt ornaments, baking cookies, creating handmade gifts or cards, and similar activities can all be done on the spur of the moment, provided you’ve thought ahead and purchased the necessary supplies.
- Accept your loved ones (and others) exactly as they are. People are people, warts and all, and there is nothing you can do to change that fact. What you can change is your attitude about their flaws. Tell yourself: “So what if my dad puts half a stick of butter on every dinner roll? So what if my mother-in-law follows me (or my spouse) around the kitchen making not-so-subtle suggestions about how a good ham should be cooked? So what if that nasty lady at the mall grabbed the last Titanfall for Xbox?” If you can just take a step back from your own goals, desires, and timeline, and accept that people are going to behave however they behave because that’s who they are, it’s much easier to abide (and maybe even embrace) their various “quirks” as part of what makes them unique and interesting. Or, on a higher plane, you can view “acceptance of others and their horrible behaviors” as your Christmas gift to the world. And when you decide to not get angry in this way… well… you don’t get angry. So it’s a gift for you, too!
- Find ways to be grateful. My esteemed colleague, Dr. Brené Brown, has spent nearly 20 years researching happiness, and after all that time she has reached one very significant conclusion: Happy people are grateful for what they have. It doesn’t matter what they have, they’re grateful for it. So whenever you feel down during the holidays, pausing and creating a ten-item gratitude list is an incredibly effective way to shift your mood. You can be grateful you have a job, a family, money to pay for Christmas (even if it’s not as much money as you’d like), a tree to decorate and/or candles to light, that your kids are healthy, that it’s sunny out, that the mall Santa doesn’t have bad breath this year, etc. As Dr. Brown suggests, it is impossible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time. The human brain just isn’t capable of feeling those two emotions simultaneously.
- Break away from greed. The holidays are a season of love and connection, not stuff. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by gift buying, giving, and receiving, try volunteering at a soup kitchen or another local charity. Being of service to others for a few hours is a great way to remind yourself what’s truly important. It’s also a legitimate reason to duck out of the holiday whirlwind and “get real” for a short time. If your kids are old enough to help, take them along. Typically, teens will complain and resent this until they get there and actually start participating. Then, as soon as the work starts, they get it. If your kids are younger, take them to the mall and tell them there is a child who is not going to get anything for Christmas without their help. Then ask them to pick out a really good toy they want for themselves that they’re going to donate to a toy drive. Make sure they know they’re giving this coveted toy away, and they won’t be getting another to replace it. When you get to the donation center, allow them to hand over the toy. Watching a young child embrace this sacrifice is a beautiful thing. You will cry. Your child will grow.
- Engage in self-care. A good way to take care of yourself is to do to a HALT check-in, with HALT being an acronym for Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, and Tired. When you HALT, you ask yourself: When is the last time I ate? Did I get enough sleep last night? Is there some conflict in my life that I need to resolve? Would a few minutes spent talking with someone who understands me help me feel better? More often than not, a catnap, a hot bath, a sandwich, or five minute phone conversation with someone who knows you really well will greatly diminish your emotional discomfort. Self-care might also include scheduling a quiet date night with your significant other, where the two of you can escape the holiday hoopla for a few hours and focus on your relationship and, perhaps, your love life.
If you are able to incorporate the above tips into your holiday routine, you will almost certainly experience positive results. No, you still won’t have a perfect holiday, and there will still be moments when you feel like screaming and pulling your hair out. But overall your experience will be much more enjoyable, and you’ll feel much more connected to your loved ones. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Ten years from now, no one will remember what sweater you gave them or which toy you put together, but they will remember the time you spent with them—talking, laughing, playing, and loving. Whatever your faith, this is a time of year when we are all encouraged to grow and nurture meaningful connections and intimacies, keeping our loved ones close and cozy until the warm rays of Spring again begin to shine. With that as your goal, your holidays will be great.