Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s…People tend to get stressed over the holidays. 

The holidays are supposed to be a time of love, laughter, and joy. Unfortunately in the year 2020, there has been a pandemic, job losses, death, and devastation. It might be different for you this year. You may not be able to gather with family as might have been your traditions. You may have lost loved ones, whose seats at the table will remain empty. I hold space for you and send thoughts and prayers if you have lost loved ones this year. How can we avoid being stressed out over the holidays:

  1. Protect your peace of mind: Holidays will come and go but you have a right not to be stressed or distressed over the holidays. Now, how do you protect your peace of mind? Decide from the onset, that you will not be stressed. Decide the mental state that you want to be in over the holidays. You want to be excited, but calm, not frenetic, not depressed. Purposefully surround yourself with beautiful things and less clutter. Since it is the end of the year, sit down and take stock and write down a list of things that you are grateful for. As you meditate on those things that have worked out for you, and give thanks for them, your gratitude will increase your peace of mind. There was an exercise that I do with my children that I called “Create your perfect day”. What we do is that we sit down very quietly the night before, and think of what we want for ourselves the next day.  In this instance, create your perfect holiday, what you want it to look like, and then do your part in creating that holiday. Decide beforehand, that you will not get stressed by anyone.
  2. Have a heart of gratitude: I have always said this: gratitude is the antidote to grumpiness. Be grateful for all the good things that have come your way over the course of the year. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to get into a mental state where gratitude is your first thought in almost everything. Every cloud has a silver lining. If you look hard enough, There is always something to be grateful for no matter what. You can have a grateful heart and if you reach for gratitude in times of stress, it will help you to reframe your situation in a way that makes you more emotionally resourceful.
  3. Have a budget so that you don’t overspend:. It is not wise to borrow money you don’t have, to buy things that you or other people don’t need, to impress people you don’t like. Or in any case people who may or may not like you. Even if they like you, going into excessive debt over the holidays is not good for your peace of mind. Holidays don’t just spring up on you out of nowhere, so putting aside money for those presents, those meals, and possibly travel is a good idea. In any case, do the best you can with what you already have. It is better to do that, then to borrow what you cannot possibly pay back.
  4. Start early with a plan: Start your holiday plans early so that you have time to work through all of them, and you are not in a state of a mad rush towards the end of the year. Plan for times with family, meals, presents, etc. Write down your plans and start to check them off as you do them one by one. There is nothing wrong with having all your presents bought early. Decide what you want to, write them down, and check them off as you go along.
  5. Don’t do too much: There is a certain amount of stress that comes from overextending yourself beyond your capacity in terms of time, energy, and money. You are just one person, and you can only do so much. A few years ago an elderly lady that I know with a severe heart condition was talking about how much cooking she had to do over Thanksgiving. I asked her why she was cooking over Thanksgiving and she said that she had always done this. I said that this was all well and good, however it was a week to Thanksgiving, she had just come out of the hospital with her heart condition, and she was physically in no state to stand cooking for a prolonged period of time. I suggested that she asked her family members to bring dishes over for the Thanksgiving meal instead of her cooking it all herself and risk putting herself back in the hospital. You may not have a heart condition, but you know what your physical, emotional, and mental limits are. The holidays are for fun and not for stress. Be careful about overextending yourself, to the point that you are so exhausted that you cannot enjoy the reason behind the season that you are celebrating.
  6. Know your triggers and prepare for them: For example, let’s say you lost a family member around Christmas, and for this reason you get sad around Christmas. No one can tell another person how and when to grieve. But you can prepare for this time of the year in a way that puts you in a more emotionally resourceful state. For example: Instead of trying to act with forced smiles and pretend that you are OK, incorporate memories of your lost family members into your holiday festivities. For example you might visit their grave site and put a Christmas decoration on it. You might do a moment of silence for them. You might have a special tribute to them in order to honor their memory, allow for some time of grieving, and in a certain way incorporate them into your holiday festivities.  This will help you compartmentalize feelings of sadness, and put away any feelings of guilt that you may feel with regards to being happy when your loved one is not there. Be honest with close friends and family members, and tell them what you are going through. Ask them to check on you from time to time and accept the comfort that they offer. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, talk to your doctor or therapist so that you can come up with some coping mechanisms for this time. If you need to take antidepressants around the holidays, please do it. It is better for you to take antidepressants for a short period of time and come out on top, than to pretend that everything is OK and end up in an even deeper depression. So, know what your triggers and stressors are and mentally prepare for them, as opposed to repressing them in a corner of your mind and have them come out in unhealthy ways.
  7. Manage family interactions like a boss!  In every family, there will be people that rub you up the wrong way. Let me let you in on a little secret. It is OK to have as little interaction with those people as possible. Let me give you an example. Once at a family reunion, I made a statement that a family member did not agree with. Instead of disagreeing respectfully and quietly, the person got up and started yelling at me. As soon as the person did that, I just got up and left the room. I refused to engage, went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, poured myself a drink, and started talking to the people in the kitchen. Family reunions do not have to turn into shouting matches and battles. There will be some family members who simply love to argue and if they know your opinions on one thing, will start an argument based on the opposite, just to see you get angry and riled up. Refuse to engage. Here is the truth, you do not have to attend every fight that you are invited to. People get a lot of anxiety especially with regards to family members on the opposite side of the political spectrum. If you know that you have family members who are politically opposite from you, and these family members are loud, angry, argumentative, you do not have to discuss political matters with them. The time to change someone’s mind is not over Thanksgiving dinner. Indeed, the time to change someone’s mind is not during an argument. People’s minds are seldom changed by arguments. People’s minds are changed when they observe for themselves and come to other conclusions. Why ruin Thanksgiving dinner because somebody wants to argue about politics? The truth about people who are argumentative like that is that they go out of their way to rile you up; get their fix, and leave you seething. If a certain family member always makes you cry, limit your interaction with them to polite pleasantries. Some people take a perverse delight in seeing you squirm, get angry, lose control, and cry. Do not give them the satisfaction.
  8. Denounce guilt: In spite of the pandemic, some people will still travel. Now, if you do not feel comfortable about traveling, do not allow family members to make you feel guilty about your decision. Do not allow people to put you under pressure to do anything that you are not comfortable with. On the flip side, please do not put anyone under pressure to travel to come and see you. Let them decide what they are comfortable with.
  9. Have fun: ! Something is not a celebration unless you have fun. Don’t forget to have fun. Take delight in what you are doing. Pause, take a moment, And enjoy yourself. Enjoy your family members. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, enjoy the fact that you can actually be alive to celebrate another holiday. If you cannot be with people, Zoom is a good way to have a virtual reunion. You can sign up for a free account and invite people to the party! Make the best of what we have and let’s get ready to be happy over this holiday season.

So, in conclusion you don’t have to be stressed out over the holidays, and you don’t have to let family members get to you. Have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy yourself.

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