Happy November! With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought I would share some helpful bits of information as we all navigate the complexities of our emotional experiences during “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… or is it?
Contrary to societal belief that the holiday season is filled with joy for all, it can actually be a trying time for many, with bouts of depression, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and stress creeping upon us. While the holiday season does come with excitement and anxious anticipation, for some it also brings potential painful memories and close encounters with toxic relationships that can put stress and strain on the mind and body.
“Holiday Who-be What-ee?” - The Grinch
Some sources of stress around the holidays include burnout and exhaustion, setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, strained and conflictual family ties, financial stress, and the emotional toll that comes with memories of past holidays or loved ones lost. While all of this can be true for many, what is also true is that you have the ability to control and manage the amount of stress exerted upon you.
8 Tips on How to Avoid and Overcome Holiday Burnout
Read on for some helpful hints to get the most out of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings:
Try not to force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season. Grief and sadness are normative emotional reactions when someone close to you has passed on that will not be present during the standard holiday traditions. Open up to all of your feelings just as they are. All feelings are welcome. All feelings are valid.
2. Reach Out:
If you are noticing yourself isolating and feeling lonely, now is the time to reach out to your safe group of peers and family members, your community, your spiritual affiliation, and it may even be a nice time to volunteer to help others in need.
3. Be Realistic:
Let go of the need to have the “perfect holiday experience” and allow the holidays to unfold organically. This takes the pressure off you and offers you an opportunity to pay attention to the simple joys as they come.
4. Set Aside Differences:
Don’t expect long-standing family problems to disappear just because it is the holiday season. Instead, you can reduce the amount of time you plan to spend with difficult family members, let go of past conflicts and resentments, and balance your own needs with your family’s needs.
5. Stick to a Budget:
Be realistic! Do not allow your finances to take a hit in an effort to please everyone. Set a budget, and stick to it. You will be proud of your accomplishment at the end. Alternatives to excessive spending can include donating to charity in someone’s name, giving homemade gifts, and starting a family gift exchange.
6. Learn to say No:
Even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is an important skillset for self-care. Be aware of your own limits, notice when your emotional tank is running low, and press pause, refuel, rest, and regroup.
7. Hang on to Healthy Habits:
While it can be very easy to slip away from our typical routine during the holiday season with the many delicious cookies and sweet treats to choose from, as well as time off from work (for some), do your best to maintain your routine each day. Mindful eating, moderate physical activity, and quality over quantity of sleep are of the utmost importance.
8. Slow Down & Enjoy:
Stay in the moment. Notice what is going on around you through your senses – what do you see? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell? When not so helpful thoughts creep into your focal point of awareness, say “Thank you mind for that thought” and return your attention back to the people and activities surrounding you. Take quiet time to be rejuvenated. Allow yourself a 10-minute rhythmic breathing exercise, body scan, progressive muscle relaxation, or another meditation of choice.
Have a Happy Holiday Season!
Hopefully by following these practical pointers, you might end up enjoying the holiday season even more than you thought you would!
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*Peace, Love, & Fierce Acceptance*
Dr. Amanda Aster-McKenna, Psy.D.
NJ Licensed Psychologist #5888, Private Practice, Montclair, NJ
Adjunct Professor, Kean University, Department of Advanced Studies in Psychology
Manager, New York City Chapter of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science
Board Member, Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris