For many, the holiday season is fun, festive - and dare I say it? - merry and bright. Others may go into the season with some trepidation. There may be family stress, worry about the budget, 50 boxes of holiday decor to put up, time thieves like meal planning, cooking and baking, shopping and wrapping presents; exercise declines while caffeine or alcohol intake increases; lack of sleep, carb and sugar overload, holiday cynicism. And much more! Here are some things to consider to make this year a lovely holiday season.
1. Make it personal - Many traditions abound around the holidays. Keep the ones you love and reject the ones that add too much stress. Or make new ones that are personal to you.
2. Keep it simple, or not! - If you love going overboard with all the holiday decor, shopping and baking and its accompanied clean up - go for it! If not, consider what you can simplify - maybe pare out the most loved holiday decor and donate the rest. Figure out your budget and do not feel guilty about it. Many people love the idea of presents being activities or memories being shared together instead of things.
3. Be consistent with healthful eating and movement - Feel free to enjoy the
indulgences. Just maybe not substitute all your healthy meals with cookies and treats. Keep the movement going. Movement - of any kind - is good for your heart and especially good to bleed off excess stress. Those in warmer climates love this time of year because the weather becomes more enjoyable. Those in the north experiencing blizzards will get their exercise through daily snow shoveling! (I’ve done holidays in both climates! They each have their plusses and minuses).
4. Have something to look forward to - I think the reason that New Year's Resolutions are catchy is because it can help us transition from holiday excitement (or disappointment) to things we can control and anticipate about our lives. I’ve been seeing internet chatter about renaming resolutions to intentions - an idea I can get behind.
5. Mental health continuity - If you are seeing a therapist, keep your appointments this
month. I make it a point to ask my clients about any concerns around the holidays. I want to hear about an increase in depression or anxiety. I want to hear about the plan for self-care. If you are on any medication, this is not the time to stop. If you’re not seeing a therapist, but notice that you’re feeling overloaded? Make a date with a friend, head to the movies for an escape, or just simply focus on deep, slow breaths.
For me, I have learned over the years what works for me and what doesn’t. I limit holiday baking to 1-2 traditional family favorites and usually try out a new recipe every other year or so. I limit my decor to 4 tupperware boxes because I realize that I have to store and care for every item I own. I do not want my things to own me. Usually, when I put up my decor, I go through what I have and toss out broken items or things I no longer care for. Then I may buy a couple new things for fun. But I never go beyond what I can safely store in those 4 boxes.
Another tip for large extended family get togethers is to exchange secret santa gifts for one person. That way everyone gets one new fun gift without breaking the bank. Or consider getting together to a special experience instead of presents. I prefer making memories with extended family over buying gifts. Some people really love buying gifts more than making memories. So, an acceptable compromise could be a secret santa gift exchange combined with one fun event, for instance.
Finally, I suggest communicating with your loved ones about expectations around the holidays. Outline how much time will be spent together, whether presents should be the ones you put on a list versus being surprised, which traditions to keep and which to toss out, favorite foods to include or whether a new experience can be had. Most importantly, be kind to others and especially be kind to yourself.
Jenny Elledge, LMFT
Jenny Elledge is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples counseling, trauma work, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, faith transitions, mixed-faith relationships, life transitions and parenting issues. She offers both therapy and coaching services in-office and online settings for couples, families, and individuals.