Christmas and Kwanzaa are right around the corner (and Hanukkah snuck right past me). Maybe you love this time of year…and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like a lot of folks who find it quite challenging. Personally, I don’t holiday like a lot of my fellow Americans, but I think it would be an oversight not to address the topic, even if it’s a bit late in the game.
In 2006, I was an intern at Children’s Mercy Hospital, and I had the bad luck of being on call for Christmas. That meant I was stuck in a city where I knew very few people, all of whom would be going home to their families for the holidays. My parents came to visit but headed home on Christmas Eve. I bawled the next day, alone in my studio apartment, missing everyone and everything.
The next year, I was in a different city at a different hospital but, again, stuck with the Christmas call. That year was easier. I had a friend in Omaha, and we did our own thing to celebrate.
The following years saw some holidays with friends in California, some with my family, and some with my partners’ families. I’ve gotten very unattached to any specific vision of what the holidays must be like, and, honestly, it’s been pretty freeing. My holiday stress level tends to be pretty low, but that’s not the case for many people.
The holidays bring with them changes in routines and schedules. Our self-care goes out the window. We hit the end of the year crunch time. Many people have the added task of holiday shopping, decorating, cooking, hosting, traveling, planning, and juggling 9 million things. Others have salient reminders of what or who they’ve lost. Couple all of that with the pressure of meeting expectations (yours and others’) or not feeling as joyous as you think you should. While you’re at it, throw in (what’s typically) a cold and dark time of year and a pandemic we’re all tired of, and it’s no wonder that many people experience heightened stress, anxiety, or depression!
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to not just survive but thrive through this season. Now, I’m not advocating that you abandon your holiday traditions as I have, but I will encourage you to do ALL of the things on this list.
1. Let your values be your guide.
Get really clear on who and what is important to you, particularly when it comes to the holidays. Tune out the noise, the expectations, the perceived obligations, and put your time, energy, and attention into what truly matters.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
When something less than desired happens, put it in perspective. Ask yourself, “On the scale of bad things, is this a paper cut or a nuclear disaster?” and react accordingly.
3. Make time for self-care.
Prioritize the basics like sleep, eating nutritious food, drinking water, and moving your body. Make time for whatever other self-care practices help you feel like you at your best.
4. Move with ease.
When we feel stressed, our movements get frantic, rushed, and hectic. Instead, intentionally relax your shoulders and move gently, smoothly, and a little more slowly than you might want to. This will help tell your nervous system that it’s all good. There’s no crisis. Relax.
5. Channel compassion – for yourself and everyone else.
You don’t have to be merry. In fact, there may be lots of reasons why you aren’t, and I bet the way you’re feeling makes sense when you consider those reasons and put them in context. So be kind to yourself! Offer that same compassion (empathy + kindness) to others, too. Adopt the attitude that everyone is doing the best they can at that moment. Try to understand what their perspective might be, how it might make sense when you consider the context, and offer them kindness, too, even if it’s just in your own thoughts.
6. Speaking of kindness, do one for someone in need.
Not only does this help someone out and add just a little bit of goodness into the world, but altruism is good for us, too. It gets us out of our own heads and our own problems and, frankly, it feels good to do good.
To be honest, I think this is pretty solid advice for any stressful time, not just the holidays, but I sincerely hope you thrive through this holiday season.