With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s time for us to take a pause and do a check-in about how we’re feeling and getting familiar with what we need. This is the time of year that has expectations for your days to be filled with peace, warmth, tradition, and connection. However there are many who will find the holidays to be a major source of stress, pain, misunderstanding and conflict. Calendars get overfilled, budgets get stretched, and compromises over whose family gets which celebration dinner may get heated.
If you suffer from anxiety, are grieving a recent loss, or are a highly sensitive person, the holidays may feel like just another thing to endure. This can also be a very difficult and confronting time if facing hurtful or toxic family dynamics. There is a lot of pressure to stay joyful and available, but really in the back of the mind you might be wondering:
Is my grandma going to comment on my weight again?
Is anyone going to stop cousin Jeff from getting political?
Is someone going to drink too much and make things uncomfortable?
Is Aunt Jane going to ask me about if I’m still single?
Is my coworker going to invite me to their annual gift exchange again that I don’t have the money for right now?
How can we find a way to show more grace and compassion to ourselves in the midst of it all? Knowing your limits. Keeping good boundaries. Listen to what your body needs from you to feel ok.
Whatever it is that you are thinking through, know that you have every right to protect yourself and your space. Even for those of us who sprint through Thanksgiving and into December with the Elf soundtrack on repeat, we know that constant joy isn’t realistic, and taking good care of yourself is a non-negotiable. Nobody needs you out there bending until you break. So let’s take a deep breath and talk about it for a second.
1. You do not have to be joyful if you don’t feel joyful.
Being happy all the time is an impossible standard. It’s called “the most wonderful time of the year,” but if that’s not where you are right now… that’s okay. Make room for how you feel by placing one hand on your heart and the other on your diaphragm. Breathe in fully until your hand rises, and exhale a long sigh. Sighing signals relief to the body and activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Do this a few times, and during the big breath in, let yourself expand, and make room for the emotion that needs your attention, whether it be fear, loneliness, anger, grief, etc. This lets your body know youre safe, and we can welcome the hard feels. Exhale what you wish for more of in the room. Ask your wise inner parent, “what would help you right now?”
2. You don’t have to follow old patterns.
Practice both/and thinking when difficult conversations arise. You can find family time to be wonderful and be stressful. You can enjoy them and sometimes feel hurt by them. Both conflicting feelings and thoughts can exist, and when we acknowledge them we can then find some clarity on how to honor our limits.
•Yep I am single, and I have been happily been placing my focus on the amazing work I’ve been doing with my business. Want to hear about it?
• I love spending time with you, and I want to let you know that talking about my weight is not up for discussion. Could we switch the subject?
3. You do not have to go to every holiday party you get invited to.
You just don’t. Is the party with a small group of friends going to bring you joy? Then heck yes, go. Stay as long as you want, and leave when you’re ready to. If the thought of a party has you more stressed than excited, kindly decline. Try saying something like
•Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I won’t be making it this time.
• I am thankful for your invitation to the party, and I need to let you know I’m going to have to pass.
It tells the person that you appreciate them, and you now have the space to say what you mean without apologizing for it.
4. You do not have to give up your routine.
An important part of working through anxiety and seasonal stress is regularly carving out some sacred time for just you. If sleep, exercise, eating well, or time alone are part of your sanity and daily needs, then please keep these things a priority most especially during the busy times. This is when you need it most. Show up late to that one work thing if you need to. Cancel your dinner plans if you haven’t moved your body in a way that feels good to you today. That way, when you do show up, you’ll likely be grounded and ready, present and grateful.
5. You do not have to do this all alone.
If you need to say no to traveling to family, find your people where you’re at and get plugged in somewhere if you need some support. This could be a religious event, time with friends from the gym, a volunteer opportunity, whatever makes you at ease. Connected people make for resilient people.
Despite your best efforts, it’s possible that if you are having a harder time than normal during the holidays, it might be time to find a mental health professional to talk to. This would be a good idea if you continue to persistently feel sad or anxious, are unable to sleep or eat well, feel hopeless, are easily irritable, or find it hard to take on routine daily chores. Step outside. Look up. Reach out and ask for help.
Christina Lafferty-Neal • Mental Health Therapist in East Nashville, TN