For most of us, the holiday season is the highlight of the year. It is a time for joy, celebration and excitement. Social events are at a peak and opportunities to interact with family and friends are almost endless. It is a time that can be filled with emotional warmth and positive interpersonal relations. All of which contributes to the spirit of goodness and kindness, which is inherent in the celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza. It is a wonderful time to be alive and to be able to share feelings of love with everyone you know, and even with strangers you pass on the street.
But for all too many of you, it is quite the opposite. The holidays force you to face your worst personal demons. There are countless deadlines and details that demand attention and create anxiety and stress particularly, for those of you who feel bound to get everything done, on time. Where ever you go you are surrounded by holiday music and Christmas messages reminding you that “you better be good, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why...” Just imagine the effect it has on anyone who is already depressed. Even more, you’re encouraged to be generous, hospitable and caring for others; a difficult task for someone who has no money and/or can’t take care of themselves let alone anyone else. It is a period filled with indulgences, and individuals with addictive personalities inevitably wind up overeating, drinking excessively, overspending, and giving beyond their means. During this time of the year, there are no limits, so too many of you “just go for it.” You succumb to temptation and forget there are such things as limits and boundaries. For those of you who are plagued by a need for perfection, it becomes a time of horrific anxiety. This is not to mention the additional stress associated with holiday travel and increased social demands, which can cause you to totally dread the season. The deadlines and the decisions, even those as minuscule as what size, what color or what item to buy Aunt Lily can be paralyzing in nature.
For those of you who are divorced or separated, every concern you harbor about not being with your children, being alone, or never again finding a partner, is exaggerated by observing others celebrating and having fun with their families. For you, the holidays can become a living hell filled with emotional pain and feelings of estrangement. As a result, you become depressed; feel unloved; avoid get-togethers; experience physical or hypochondriacal symptoms and decry the holidays for being too commercial and unworthy of celebrating.
Last, but certainly not least, the social and interpersonal demands during the holidays force many of you to face your greatest fear of all; people. You find yourself at family functions and parties unable to politely escape, feeling uncomfortable, out of control and out of place, as though you don’t belong. The stress inherent in these situations is bad enough in its own right. To make matters worse, you then resort to excessive use of food, alcohol, drugs, nicotine or any other behavior in order to help you escape from people you make no effort to see all year long, but feel forced to interact with during the holidays.
As a result, tempers flare, your sensitivity increases and your stress can soars to new highs worrying about “Will the house be clean enough for Mama?” or “Will Aunt Grace become argumentative after she drinks too much holiday punch?” The end result: overwhelming feelings of anxiety, financial problems and feelings of unworthiness. It’s no wonder the season can be unbearable for those of you who already feel bad.
Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s neither easy nor fast, but it is effective: What it requires is that you:
1. Take control of the situations you find yourself in. Stop looking at your world in terms of “What will Mama think?” “What will sis say?” “What if the turkey doesn’t come out perfect?” Think in terms of “I can enjoy the holiday by emotionally, financially, behaviorally and socially taking charge of me.”
2. Create boundaries with regard to whom you will visit, where, when and for how long. Set limits on spending and gift giving. Refuse to be trapped in an endless battle of satisfying everybody else’s needs and expectations. You never can. You’ll always fail, and there is no pot of emotional gold at the end of that rainbow.
3. Plan fewer and smaller social gatherings. Make them more manageable, more intimate and more meaningful. It will give you greater opportunities to enjoy your guests and better times to remember.
4. Start your own family’s holiday traditions. Recognize that you finally are an adult and that you need to live as one. That means that you neither acquiesce, totally comply, or continue to behave as a child. Nor do you rebel against parents, society and that which is politically correct. You don’t have to, because when you are your own person, you need only follow your own inclinations.
5. Place less focus on gifts, food, drink and social events. Celebrate the message of the holidays with the traditions that you’ve chosen. Look for the positive and the uplifting. Traditions which are, for you, more meaningful and manageable, those that are easier to live up to, create less anxiety and contribute to a greater sense of joy and peace within you, around you and toward all others.
In effect, make this a holiday that you can enjoy and remember, one that is of your own making.