How do we set ourselves up for having holidays that leave us feeling refreshed and reconnected, rather than exhausted and depressed?
So much about having optimized mental health is about being real about who we are and what our limitations are. Once we have had that gut check, it becomes about planning, planning, planning. And if you’re not a planner, don’t despair! I’m not talking about spreadsheets and family meetings. I’m talking about taking moments for yourself, every day, to check in and reflect on what went right, what could have been better and what might you do next time opinionated Cousin Eddie comes over, to set up a better buffer for yourself.
First and foremost, you are a grownup. That means that you can choose whom to spend your time with, who you let into your inner circle, and you get to decide who you expose yourself to. However, the holidays are tricky because often, some of the most toxic people in your life happen to come with others whom you do love and cherish. What is any reasonable grown up-recovering-from-their-childhood to do?
- Boundaries. Take some time to reflect on your boundaries, and perhaps how they need to change now that you are said grown-up. Notice if there is someone who overwhelms you pretty quickly. Move away from them. As a grown up, you are the one who has the final say in your choice of partner, religion, sex life, job, how you spend your money or social activities. You also don’t have to accept gifts, touch, sexual advances or food from anyone that you do not want to.
- Build in down time. Especially if you have kids. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with needing to see everybody that we either are on the road the whole season, or so busy entertaining ourselves that the whole season passes us by. Maybe 3 nights out in a row isn’t such a hot idea (it’s basically a game plan for many meltdowns, kids and grownups alike).
- Reflect on personalities. This is for you extroverts. Here is a newsflash: not everyone is an extrovert (shocking, I know). And just because someone wants to stay in, not go to the party, not see everybody, doesn’t mean that they are depressed or anything at all is wrong with them. It just means They.Are.Not.You. Everyone should get to celebrate the holidays the way they want. Maybe ask the introverts in your life what they like best about the holidays, and accommodate them too.
- Outsource. This is exactly the time of year to change an annual gathering into a pot luck, try that new meal or grocery delivery service you’ve heard about, do all the Christmas shopping online (one for you, one for them?) and plan in some date nights for you and that other adult you live with (what’s their name again?).
- If you are missing someone. This holiday season you might be alone, and not by choice; perhaps you have suffered a loss, and you can see all of the triggers that lay ahead of you. Try to volunteer somewhere, in a soup kitchen, with children in group homes, or the elderly in various facilities. People will so appreciate you, you may feel better about yourself, but most of all, you’ll have company. Staying connected to people will ease the feeling of loneliness.
- Self-care. Self-care isn’t about locking yourself in the bathroom for an uninterrupted hot bath once a week (although I highly recommend it). It’s about structuring your life and your days in such a way that you are also on your To Do list. You absolutely Cannot.Pour.From.An.Empty.Cup. Mom, dad or stepparents having a nervous breakdown one day, totally losing their shit (see Clark Griswold), losing control about anything in particular is just human. It’s also a sign that someone isn’t taking care of himself or herself emotionally. My number one question for people is, while you are running around taking care of everyone else, who is taking care of you? If the answer is “no one” (which it often is), you have a problem that needs to be addressed. And, while I’m at it, you also need to average 7 hours of sleep a night, eat well, move your body a bit everyday and take it easy on the booze.
I hope this post gives you some pause to reflect for a few moments and think ahead to how you want to feel this holiday season (rather than what you want to do). Plan your life around the things that bring you joy. And if you have to encounter situations, people or scenarios that are taxing for you, build in the supports you need to make it through, and then build in a reward for yourself that gives you a pat on the back. And as always, reach out for support when you need it. We humans are social animals, and we weren’t meant to get through things alone, but connected to people we feel emotionally safe with.
Best wishes for a safe, joyful, peaceful and not insane holiday season.