Wow, is it just me or did the holiday season bulldoze right into us this year? It seems like I blinked and suddenly all of the houses in my neighborhood were decked out with colorful lights and Christmas trees.
This time of year brings up so many different feelings for people, and while I’m not saying anything revolutionary here, it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s ok to sometimes feel, well…crappy. The truth of the matter is while the holiday season can be fun, cozy, and exciting it can also bring on a lot of other feelings like stress, anxiety, and feeling all around burned out (raise your hand if you get sick around the holidays every year like I do).
The expectation is usually that we excitedly attend holiday parties, anticipate seeing our families, get cozy by the fire with our matching pajamas, and find the “perfect” gift for all of our loved ones. I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted just thinking about that.
So why are the holidays so difficult anyway?
For some people being around their families can be extremely triggering, before we know it our childhood traumas can rear their ugly heads and we can find ourselves falling right back into old patterns and family dynamics. Being around family can bring up a lot of unwanted questions that maybe we, ourselves, are not ready to think about or are in the process of thinking through. I know for many of the women I work with they fear questions like:
“Are you seeing anyone special?”
“When are you going to have a baby?”
“Are you getting married soon?”
“How are things going at work?”
Sometimes the triggers are comments as opposed to questions:
“Looks like you’ve put on weight/lost weight/too skinny/too fat” or anything at all about our overall bodies and appearance
“Your cousin (sister/brother/fill in the blank) seems to be doing really well” which can feel passive aggressive or downright shady.
It can be easy to compare ourselves to others and stack ourselves against other people’s perceived successes. Maybe “so and so” had a baby or got a promotion, maybe your younger sibling got married and you feel eternally single. Maybe there was a huge loss in the family and your whole family has to reconfigure itself. Maybe you look around at your friends and they all seem so happy but you just don’t feel the same.
Whatever it may be, it’s all very valid, not to mention challenging.
So what can you do to deal with all of this stress?
Here are some of my thoughts on how to manage and things that have worked for me in the past:
Keep your visit short
There is no law that says you have to be with your family for a whole week if you don’t want to be. Plan to be there for as long as it feels comfortable to you, if that means just 1 or 2 nights, hey…that’s ok
Stay somewhere else
Consider staying in a hotel close by. It may seem untraditional to do so, but that gives you the freedom to arrive to the family gathering when it feels right for you and also have a place to retreat to if needed. It offers more control on how long you stay and when you go.
Do you know what questions will likely come up? One thing I have worked on with my clients is developing somewhat of a script when the questions that push their buttons come up. Having a go to answer as well as mentally preparing yourself for the tricky stuff alleviates any in the moment stress or pressure and allows you to move through the conversation easier.
Know your triggers and plan for them ahead of time
Do you know that your parents difficult relationship dynamic will trigger you or stress you out? Are there other tricky family dynamics that you know will somehow trigger painful memories? If so, take some time to think about them before you are around your family (or friends or in laws or whoever) and map out a plan for yourself. If possible think about your tender spots, what really causes pain or discomfort for you? Once you have an idea of what those things are come up with some coping strategies that can help you move through that time. Try using a positive coping statement like “this isn’t about me” or “by this time tomorrow I will be home” or whatever works for you. Also consider stepping outside for a walk or refocusing your energy on non draining family members
If all else fails and it feels really difficult to be with family or celebrate the holidays you have permission not to do so. The fact of the matter is that this time of year is hard. It’s ok to have moments of sadness or not feel up to all the traditional holiday activities at all. Be gentle with yourself and do what feels best for you.