With the seasonal end of daylight saving time, the arrival of Thanksgiving (or even Halloween depending on when retailers in your area start decorating) and the approach of Christmas, often comes the expectation of perfect family gatherings, holiday magic, and Currier and Ives-picture perfect moments. For many, however, this idealized expectation can lead to frustrations, disappointment, sadness and holiday blues when the reality of life contrasts too greatly with this fairy tale dream.
While we wish for everyone to experience these months as “the most wonderful time of the year,” there is much we can actively do to contribute to making the holiday season the best possible for each of our unique places in life.
1. Set realistic expectations
It’s important to set realistic expectations for the holidays. Remove the burden of trying to make the holidays “perfect” and replace it with making the holidays enjoyable, or as peace-filled as possible. Consider what that means for you. Does that mean: Not being in a rush? Planning extra time for unexpected delays or transitions from one activity to another? Honoring a missed loved one? Or
Simplifying your holiday plans? However you answer this question, make sure you are setting up your plans to be realistic, doable and enjoyable, recognizing that you cannot control the behaviors and actions of others. If Aunt Sally never attends the children’s musical, don’t set yourself up to be disappointed by expecting her to attend this year.
2. Pay attention to your own needs
An important part of being at your best during the holidays means planning for ways to get your own needs met. This begins with first acknowledging that we all have needs, and then identifying what our own unique needs are. Be aware and take care of meeting your basic needs first so you are not compromised by being hungry, tired, or in pain. Using the acronym HALT, may also be helpful. It reminds us to stop what we are doing (or halt) and take care of ourselves anytime we recognize we are feeling, Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT). Whatever your situation, pay attention to your own unique needs during this time and make sure you are setting up win-win situations- ones in which you and your loved ones can be at their best.
3. Plan for down time
We all need rest. Time to just be. Sometimes we forget this during the holidays when there is so much we could do or want to do. Keep in mind that rest is a valuable and necessary activity. It’s one way the body restores itself and keeps us healthy.
4. Limit your activities
Consider which holiday activities are the most important to you and give your holidays the most meaning. This may mean connecting with friends, celebrating a holiday tradition, or attending religious services important to you. Give yourself permission to say no to some activities so that you can enjoy and be more fully present in the activities you do choose.
5. Be aware of your own stress level
If you know that Uncle Fred always pushes your buttons, plan to allow yourself extra time for self care the day you see him. Allow yourself the freedom to step out of the room, take a nap, a walk, or attend to something you enjoy when you feel your stress level rising. Also consider frequently checking-in with your body to observe where you are holding tension and to practice releasing it. Deep breathing exercises which involve breathing from the diaphragm and allowing the belly to expand can also reduce stress.
6. Expect post holiday blues
It’s quite common after the anticipation of a big event or holiday, to experience a bit of an emotional let-down, or holiday blues, after the activity ends. If you are a person who has experienced blues in the past, be aware that they may present themselves again. So that you won’t be caught off guard by them, plan for how to address them when they do arrive. That may mean simply acknowledging them as normal and allowing them to float in and then float back out of your life, like clouds passing in the sky (as my yoga teacher would say). Or it may mean calling a friend, planning a session with a therapist, or planning an activity that renews you during this blue period.
7. Offer yourself extra grace
If there is one thing that our world could always use a little more of, it’s compassion and grace for both ourselves and those around us. When we offer ourselves this grace, it not only turns off our own inner-critics, it also has the added benefit of making us less critical of others. Recognize moments when you are being hard on yourself and offer yourself permission to be human, complete with your own faults and imperfections. Then you can exhale a sign of relief. While this may seem awkward or superficial at first, with practice you’ll begin to see the benefits.