“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” a song that rings throughout elevators, restaurants and shopping malls at this time of year. But what if it’s not how you actually feel? Instead of feeling the joy and cheer, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, anxious, disconnected, lonely or stressed. We are all continuing to navigate the transitional period of the pandemic in 2021. This holiday season may be your first time traveling, or seeing extended family, or attending a large gathering, and so even if the holiday season has always been a joyous experience in the past, this year may feel different ⎼ and that’s okay! Mental health experts Audrey Grunst, LCSW & Brittany Polacek, LPC are here to help with their top three tips to surviving the holiday season.
Boundaries are rules or limits that we create to protect and care for ourselves. Whether this year presents new challenges or this has always been an area of struggle, take 5 minutes to reflect and write down what a successful holiday season would look and feel like to you. Think back on your experiences from past holidays: what brought you a sense of joy, connection and love? What has felt problematic or overwhelming? Perhaps money is tighter this year and you’re feeling nervous about purchasing gifts. Or maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one or have a tense relationship with a family member who you know you’ll see at a holiday dinner.
Now, here’s the tricky (and probably most underrated part), as you jot down your ideal holiday plan...avoid self-judgement. It can be easy to look back at that piece of paper and say, “yeah, but I can’t not see so-and-so” or to think, how could I possibly skip my holiday work party, I'm trying to get that big promotion so it will look bad if I don’t go. Remember: prioritizing your own needs will help provide you with a more joyful and sustainable holiday season.
Once you establish your boundaries, the next step is to effectively communicate those to the outside world in a way that feels comfortable. Start by practicing a softer response. For example, if someone invites you to a holiday party and your gut reaction is that you don’t want to go ⎼ but feel you’ll let them down by not attending, try saying, “let me think about that and get back to you.” Once you’ve created a little distance from the person’s request you can think back to the ideal holiday plan you wrote out and ask yourself if this aligns with your boundaries. If it doesn’t, then you can craft a thoughtful and kind, yet firm response back to decline the invitation.
Once you feel comfortable with this, you can also play around with a more firm response by saying “No.” Trust yourself to know what you need or want and remember that "No" is a complete sentence. It might be a harder boundary for the other person to hear, but being honest with people doesn't mean you're being unkind.
This may all sound logical, but can be a lot more challenging to put into practice. So what can you do to help keep yourself on track? Share the boundaries you’re setting with others (and for yourself) this holiday season with a trusted friend, partner or family member. Ask them to help hold you accountable if they see you straying away to please others over yourself.
Sometimes when it comes to family conflict or interpersonal conflict, these are deeply rooted in your history. This can indicate an opportunity to work with someone like a licensed therapist who you can lean on for support with unresolved matters that are creating discord in your life. Additionally, if you’re in a season of working through grief and loss that can be especially difficult during the holidays. Consider this your validation and reach out to an unbiased professional to get the support you need and deserve.
As we enter the holiday season remember that boundaries are a form of self-love. You are teaching others how to care for you. This lays a foundation for more solid relationships and builds trust. The holidays are a short period of the year and most likely, when it’s all over, that person/relationship will still exist. It’s important not to overspend our time, energy and mental resources pleasing others during this time because we’ll end up starting the new year feeling exhausted or even resentful.
We can probably all relate to stretching ourselves too thin during this time of year, so take the time to give back to yourself. Don’t forget to use these three tips for a healthy and joy-filled holiday season: keep your ideal holiday plan handy (and refer back to it as often as needed), communicate your needs and boundaries clearly and lean on an accountability buddy for the support you need.
We look forward to seeing you in your inbox with additional resources.