Written by: Lindsey Rogers
Before the Halloween candy is even handed out, stores like Target roll out holiday decor signaling that the time is upon us. Before it is time to “fall back,” let alone dig out some winter scarves, we are swiftly inundated with advertisements heralding “the most wonderful time of year!” But all this ever-present messaging of joy and cheer can cause a real disconnect for those of us who aren’t part of a loving, “traditional” family like the ones depicted in those saccharine Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. It can feel like a lot of pressure to engage in joyful gatherings when you feel stressed or depressed. Holidays evoke all sorts of feelings and memories in all of us—the good, the bad, and even the ugly.
Perhaps your family is similar to the ones in those iconic Norman Rockwell paintings in that you feel all warm and fuzzy when you think of the holidays and time with your loved ones. But even if you feel like you are one of the lucky ones who really get along well with your relatives, the holidays can mean pressure to follow through with traditions and rituals from the past. If you have a more challenging relationship with the people you grew up with, being back in your original home environment can trigger feelings of sadness and frustration. With the recent election results, family time can be even more fraught if you and your family members do not share similar viewpoints.
As if the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder were not enough, the holidays and their attendant obligations can bring up substantial anxiety and dread. Maybe it has for you? Well, grab a long pull of that hot cocoa and take a breath. There are ways to manage the ups and downs of holiday time with family. It is important to identify what you are worried about: Is it answering the question of who you voted for and why? Is it being asked about your plans for the future and yeesh, when are you going to settle down already?! Or is it criticism that this stuffing is not nearly as good as Grandma’s? If you are worried about judgment and disapproval, you can work on setting boundaries to decrease the likelihood of those fears being realized. Imagine putting on that suit of armor to protect yourself from emotional attacks. Perhaps this means asking to take all political talk off the table or having a good comeback like: “I don’t have an answer but I am feeling happy about the future” to ward off pressure to talk about yourself. When all else fails, change the subject toward a more innocuous topic. And recall that, although family systems can make us feel like we are tiny children again, in reality, we are still adults and sometimes adults need to go take a walk. If holiday family time is feeling too stressful, take a break—whether that means going to the store for more ice or just escaping to that peaceful place in your mind for a few moments.
The holidays can not only make us feel less than jolly when it comes to our family situations but they can also bring a lot of other imposed celebrations. Work parties, gatherings with friends, and neighborhood get-togethers can create a dynamic in which the overload of forced cheer is impossible to push back against. Why keep up with healthy habits like good sleep hygiene, working out, and eating healthy when you can stay up late, party with your bosses, gorge yourself on holiday confections and drink so much spiked eggnog that it starts to taste good?! Not only can the holidays wreak havoc on things like caloric intake, but they can also do some financial damage. So before you create a debt-filled and out-of-shape new year to deal with, set some goals for yourself. The holidays are about indulgence—but indulge within reason. Build in some time to recharge and relax outside of those social gatherings and try to get back to your normal routine in between parties. That way, once 2017 hits, you won’t feel like you’ll need a scroll to capture all your resolutions.
So, maybe the holidays give you a mixture of feelings and that’s okay. Just know that before you realize it, there will be commercials telling you it is time for spring break and swimsuits…this holiday season will go by quickly. And with anything that is stressful, difficult, or pressure-filled, it is best to have a plan of action, implement ways to stay in control, and just try to keep it all in perspective.