I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, sharing the day with loved ones and celebrating the many blessings of life. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a time of year that can be joyous as we attend gatherings, spend time with family and friends, celebrate our traditions and take a break from our usual work and school routines.

But for some (or even most) people, this is also an emotionally difficult season. Anxiety, loneliness, discontent, envy, longing and sadness are all part and parcel of the holidays. It’s also a time for navigating challenging family dynamics, heightened expectations and accompanying stress.  

As we get ready for the festivities of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s, I recommend taking some time to think about what aspects of the holidays are difficult for you and practicing some coping strategies.

The Myth of Perfection

One of the greatest challenges that we face during the holiday season is not about cooking the perfect turkey or snapping the best Christmas card picture, but rather, navigating our expectations of what the holidays should look like. Whether you are trying to meet the standards of social media, your in-laws or even yourself, we can become enslaved to chasing the illusion of “perfect” during this time of year. A pursuit of perfection creates an immense amount of stress and anxiety. It robs us of our ability to be present and experience the joys of connecting family and friends.

Here are some strategies for getting ahead of these negative emotions and enjoying the holidays for what they are:

  • When you sense uncomfortable feelings coming to the surface, sit with them. Notice how they feel in your body. Are there certain memories or thoughts that are triggered? When have you felt this before? When you are mindful about your feelings and their triggers, instead of trying to avoid them and push them away, it is easier to accept them, deal with them and then move on.
  • Give yourself an outlet for your feelings. Call a friend, schedule an appointment with a therapist, go for a walk, journal or pray. Spend intentional time working through whatever is triggered in the moment.
  • Practice selfcare. Get enough sleep, exercise, meditate, spend time outdoors. The better you feel physically, the stronger you’ll feel mentally.
  • Express gratitude in the mess. Did you know that expressing gratitude for even the smallest things can help combat depressive thoughts? Jot down a list of things that make you feel grateful. Take time to notice your sources of comfort and ease.

The Challenging Dynamics of Family  

First and foremost, it is important to know that there is no family without some conflict or tension. Again, perfection is a myth. Over the last 20 months, with the social, political and public health challenges we’ve faced, the divisions in many families have become more acute.

To equip you for the gatherings ahead, consider how to respond to the topics that upset you, set clear boundaries and accept that there may be difficult moments, but there are probably also some wonderful moments:

  • Respond rather than react. When something is said that pushes your buttons or runs right into your triggers, acknowledge what activated your stress response and then take care of your emotional needs. Take a deep breath, listen and assume best intentions, but step away if you need to.
  • Set boundaries. Consider making statements such as: “I appreciate your curiosity, but I am not ready to talk about that yet.” “Thank you for sharing your thoughts, but this is what works for us right now.” Setting boundaries in relationships protects you and your loved ones. Boundaries decrease feelings of resentment, confusion and relational burnout. Don’t be afraid to say “No” and look for new patterns marked by respect, trust, compassion, and reciprocity.
  • Deal with grief. Are you grieving the open seat at the table for a loved who has passed? Grief can feel especially debilitating around the holidays. It is okay to be sad and accept that you are grieving. Whether it be individually or communally, try to honor your loved one. Perhaps this happens through cooking their favorite Christmas casserole, sharing fond memories of them, reviewing pictures of the past or offering a prayer. When you acknowledge your feelings, it’s easier for loved ones to support you in your grief.

If you are worried about coping during the weeks ahead and need someone to talk to, I am here to help. Give me a call at  (303) 542-0180.

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