While most people enjoy the holidays, many don't. Even those who usually love extra time with loved ones, are bound to face the holiday blues some time. Whether it's every year, or just 2020, everyone will need a survival guide for the holidays at some point. This year, with COVID-19 and job losses affecting individuals around the world, surviving the holidays has never been a more relevant topic.
In an ideal world, the holiday season would be a nice break from our ordinary lives, a time for rest and rejuvenation, and most importantly, a chance to reconnect with family and friends. The truth is, the holidays can be highly emotional and difficult times.
What Sets Apart a Happy Holiday from a Difficult One?
From throwing you off your routine to the stress of social gatherings, from national holidays to religious events, the holiday blues can affect literally anyone. Instead of discovering that you're depressed and struggling when you're living in holiday hell, let's consider the situations that leave you vulnerable to strain this holiday.
Triggers That Set Off Bad Holiday Energy
As a coach and advisor for more than 20 years, I've heard it all. There are literally no holiday stories that have surprised me in years. That also means I have enough experience to identify patterns. The triggers that instantly come to mind are:
- Are you newly divorced and this is your first holiday season outside that relationship?
- Have you and your partner split up and this was the person you were counting on to get you through the holidays?
- Are you grieving someone that you lost this past year, whether due to illness (like COVID), an accident, or old age?
- Are you remembering disappointment from the past year, disappointments in yourself or from those you love?
- Finally, are you worried about the future (e.g. your job, your bills, your health, your happiness)?
Grief comes in many forms. Especially in the midst of a global pandemic. So, if you look at the holiday season like you're staring down the barrel of a gun, this is for you. Keep in mind, you are not the only one who needs this survival guide. In fact, there's probably someone in your life that needs you to share this with them too!
Tips for Surviving Any Holiday Season
1. Know Thyself
Staying sane during the holidays starts with self-awareness. You need to know your version of normal and what throws you off. If you try to roll with whatever comes your way, you are giving away your power. Think ahead of time about what you need to feel normal. Make a list of what triggers set you off. Do you have a go-to reaction? If you get angry when you're triggered, plan how you'll de-escalate. If you usually get sad, know what you'll do as a pick-me-up. If you don't plan ahead, when things go wrong you will react, you will drink, and you will withdraw. But when you plan, you can see the storm coming, stop it in its tracks, and (if you can't stop it completely) have your escape ready.
2. Take Care of You First
When you're watching the safety demonstration on an airplane, you'll notice something interesting about what to do if the ventilation masks come down. You are always supposed to put your mask on first before you help anyone else. For example, even the most protective parent should put their own mask on before putting a mask on their child. If you're the person who's always taking care of everyone else, this tip is even more important. If you don't take care of you first, you will run out of steam helping others and have nothing left for you. You cannot take care of others if you're falling apart. If you're hanging on by a thread, don't even bother trying to deal with stressful people and situations. That's a recipe for disaster.
3. Moderate Expectations
Expectations can be a double-edged sword. If you have high expectations (like, everything will run smoothly, or I'm probably getting that great gift I've been talking about all year, or maybe no one will fight this year...) the chances of being let down are high. High expectations can easily set you up for disappointment. Low expectations can turn into a miserable self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect the worst from your friends and family, you could be on alert for signs that everything is going down the tubes and bad behavior may be all you see. Instead, let go of your expectations. Focus on the moment you're living and avoid worrying about what might happen.
4. Show Compassion
Things will "go wrong". That's the nature of life. What makes it worse is when we are hard on those around us. It is easy to see how things around you are affecting you. But remember that you have an impact on others too. Is it possible that you are the source of stress and strain for others and yourself? When someone disappoints you, which inevitably they will, be compassionate. Assume they didn't mean to hurt you. Give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive, even if the offender doesn't ask for forgiveness. This doesn't mean you have to accept bad treatment, but you can and should let it go after it's happened. Holding on to an insult, for example, is like reinjuring yourself. With compassion for the stress of others, you can more easily let go and move on.
5. Connection is Key
From joining a church initiative to volunteering at your local shelter, get involved. When you give of yourself, you get more in return. Also, if you plan to connect in ways that are good for you, you can replace triggers with joy. Avoiding the people and situations that mess with your equilibrium doesn't necessarily mean being alone. Choose the people and situations you know you can handle. Replace the holiday nightmares you need help surviving with holiday choices that feed your soul.
6. Honor Lost Loved Ones
Grief can be heightened over the holidays, especially at family gatherings, when we look around the table and remember those who joined us for these occasions but are no longer with us in bodily form. If you miss someone - perhaps a favorite uncle, cousin, parent or friend, talk to them in your mind, just as if they were there with you. They can hear us and are happy to know that they are not forgotten. If you have saved Christmas or holiday cards from those who have departed, display them in a special area of your home with decorations or candles, inviting them to stop by and visit. If depression seems to overwhelm you, take a walk and focus on nature around you. Sometimes starting a much-needed project will keep your mind occupied, such as cleaning bookshelves, sorting decorations, etc. Play some up-beat music while working, or even call a friend you haven't heard from in a while. When we move around and start doing something, it increases our endorphins. This helps to relieve stress and refocuses our attention.
Here are a few more tips for coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays:
Do what feels right for you.
It's up to you to decide what you can handle. Don't feel obligated to participate in anything that doesn't feel comfortable. You are very vulnerable right now.
Allow yourself to grieve.
Everyone grieves differently. Some may try to avoid their feelings; others embrace their sadness. Please don't feel guilty! Allow yourself the indulgence of how you feel. No one is judging you.
Embrace your family.
Other family members are emotional too. Be honest about how you'd like to do things this year. Take solace in this support. Stay in touch with others that are grieving. It's OK to talk about your feelings.
If the thought of holiday activities feels overwhelming, cut back. Limit holiday parties to small gatherings with your close friends and family. Do whatever feels safe and comfortable to you. Be realistic. Think of yourself and what you can handle.
Give of yourself.
It's amazing how in times of grief, sometimes the biggest comfort is to give to others. You might purchase something that symbolizes the person or time before your loss and make it a family present in memory of your loved one. Or make a donation in a loved one's name to a charity. You can help others while paying tribute to someone you’ve lost.
Just say "No".
If you feel that holiday festivities will be too much for you and you'd like to simply stay to yourself, that's OK too. Let family and friends know. It's a good idea to make sure someone checks in with you periodically during the day.
Standing in Your Power
These tips are all about reversing holiday pressure. The holidays don't have to be something out of your control. You can survive the holidays by writing the script for your holiday season yourself. With COVID-19, this is the year to rethink the holidays. This is your chance to undo the things that don't work and create a time for you to thrive.