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Holiday Survival Guide

As children, we often look to the holidays with anticipation and wonder. Like you, I have fond memories of twinkling Christmas lights, crackling fires, Thanksgiving feasts, and waking up to gifts under the tree. As adults, the holidays stir up more than pleasant sentiments. During the holiday season, we are reminded of hurt and loss. The void left by lost friends and family members during holiday celebrations is agonizingly felt. Preparing for family visits, coordinating meals, sleeping arrangements, and transportation can really leave one’s head spinning. The stress of cramming several people into one house, and the ensuing drama can be emotionally draining. On the other hand, the lack of companionship during the holidays can be excruciatingly painful. Add the constant bombardment of ads for toys, appliances and electronic gadgets and gizmos, and you have a recipe for a monster 30-day headache. Here are five tips that I share with my clients on how to weather the holiday season:

This too shall pass.

Acknowledging your stress or pain during the holidays is your first step. Do not try to minimize or shove away what you’re feeling. Painful memories hurt and it’s okay to hurt. There’s nothing wrong with you when feeling grief or stress during the holidays. Listen to your body. You’re hurting for a reason, so honor and acknowledge it, then practice self care. Also, know that these feelings will pass.

Take time for yourself.

It’s very easy to get caught up in hustle and bustle of the holidays. Simply by the shear nature of running around to stores, planning, cooking, managing kids off from school, you will experience physical and emotional fatigue. Make sure that you plan time for yourself. This may look like going for a walk, sneaking away to watch a show, or reading a book. If you can, find time to exercise. Getting your heart rate up will help you feel better, and you will have some time to decompress.

Set clear boundaries.

It’s okay to say, “No.” When family visits, we can get caught up in taking care of others or in family drama. If you feel overwhelmed, or you are placed in an uncomfortable situation, say, “No.” People will respect you more when you hold firm to your boundaries. In any case, it’s important that you communicate your feelings with your loved ones. Let them know when you are tired and need a breather. If you have children, I would encourage you to work with your spouse to keep on the same page when parenting. Children can also feel the stressful energy, and they may test your boundaries in response. With children, be clear and consistent with consequences for inappropriate behaviors.

Participate in service.

Consider planning a service project for your family. There’s nothing like getting in the holiday spirit like thinking of others above yourself. This can also be a great teachable moment for your children about humility and sacrifice. In addition, if you are spending the holidays alone, service can help you stay active and keep your mind occupied in healthy ways. Who knows who you’ll meet?

Set a budget.

It’s very easy to blow your budget. Develop a plan and stick to it. Our culture is built on instant gratification and making emotional decisions, and the holidays are filled with emotion. Do not fall into the trap of emotional spending or using purchases to self sooth. This will never end well, and you will more than likely experience a large helping of buyer’s remorse.

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About Ryan Stivers, PhD (3 Articles)
I am a family systems therapist currently working at a residential treatment center, an assistant professor in a graduate counseling program, aspiring blogger, and researcher. I am interested in the application of systems theory to individuals, relationships, and organizations.

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