It’s supposedly the most wonderful time of the year. And it’s hard for it not to be with all the twinkling lights, delicious cookies, gifts, all the magic and excitement, and of course the sacred time spent with friends and family. We find excuses to buy more, eat more, give more, laugh more. More, more, more. But with more of the good things, there can be more of the not so good things too. There’s the stress, tight finances, disappointment, pressure, guilt, magnified grief, and fitting in six different family visits that inevitably goes south.
About a month ago I reached out to a dear friend of mine and an incredibly awesome couples counselor, Wesley Little. Wes and I went to graduate school together and she’s one of the most remarkable women I know. Her insight would change your life forever, so after you read this, you should check out her website at www.wesleyannelittle.com. And if you live in Charlotte, NC or anywhere near there, you should just go meet her. Seriously. She’s. The. Best.
Anyway, Wes and I did a little brainstorming about the craziness of the holidays and what it does to us, and we came up with five tips on how you can stay focused on your mental health this holiday season.
1. Having and Holding Healthy Boundaries
Ahhhh, boundaries. Those things that we know are good for us, but have a way of pissing everyone else right off. If only holding our boundaries was met with applause by our loved ones. But often people don’t like us holding boundaries, because it means they get less of what they want. So then the passive-aggressive comments, guilt trips, and heavy sighs into the phone start to happen.
An important thing to remember is that holding boundaries rarely makes you feel good in the moment. And actually, it will probably feel more like a panic attack. That gut-wrenching uncomfortable feeling can (and will!) convince you that you’re making too big of a deal out of something and that you should just go back to your people pleasing ways. This is why it’s hard to hold your boundaries to begin with, right? Because in the moment it feels impossible to have to tell someone no. Holding boundaries is for the long-game of eventually lowering your anxiety. That night you stay home with your partner to watch a Christmas movie and drink wine is going to feel so much better than going to your crazy uncle’s house and answering questions about when you’re going to get pregnant again. But to get to that relaxing evening, you’ve got to say no first.
You might say, “But I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.” I know. Me neither. But I also don’t want to have acid stomach and adult acne forever. So at some point, we’ve got to learn how to say no to the things that really suck the life out of us.
2. Create Realistic Expectations
Are you a dream-weaver? Do you love the idea of the family sitting around and telling funny stories of holidays past, but then get all sad every year when cousin Cathy acts like an asshole? First of all, that’s awesome that you are such a positive thinker. Without people like you, no one would even get together in the first place! But I hate the thought of you getting your holiday spirit crushed when people act disappointing.
Look, family is amazing, and family is hard. It’s a group of people who are acting out all their roles in the system, and we rarely get it right. This year, try going in with a realistic lens. Is Uncle Ted going to get drunk? Likely. Is Dad going to get offended at what Grandma says and bring the mood down? Maybe. Is sister Sarah going to make some passive-aggressive comment that makes your blood boil for a bit? Possibly. We are who we are. We’re not going to be better at Christmas. We’re going to be ourselves. I’d encourage you to seek out the small moments of connection. Does your nephew laugh at your jokes? Are you so excited to catch up with that one cousin who seems to get you? Those moments are the bright bulbs in a time when we can bet on things not going perfectly.
3. Amp Up the Self-Care
Would you wear a silk dress into an 80 degree cocktail party without deodorant? No? Then let’s not have you walk into the holidays without some stress-reducing tactics. Go for a run, get in a yoga session, craft for an hour without interruption. Do whatever it is that brings your brain to that “om” state. If you’re more of an introvert, make sure you have some alone time on a walk before that big family party. More of an extrovert? Make sure you spend time with people who really *get* you mixed in with those relatives who will probably ask you what your college major was.
4. Pick One Thing That’s for Pure Delight
Whether it’s making those special family cookies with your kids, or going ice skating with your partner at least once, pick one thing that makes your heart sing with holiday spirit and make sure you do it. Don’t let the neighbor come. Don’t invite that couple who doesn’t have any family nearby. This is your ONE THING. No bending the rules.
5. Be Kind to Your Body
The holidays are filled with delicious food and drinks, and it’s likely freezing cold where you live. It’s a time when we gain a little weight. For people who struggle with their bodies, it can also be a time where we get angry and harsh towards ourselves. Healthy is about balance. Enjoy the things you want, and also go for walks. No one needs to get in a bathing suit tomorrow.
The holidays aren’t just about the kids. It’s about everyone in the family, including you! So do what you gotta do to have a Merry Day. You deserve it.
Ur a Mom Now.