Let’s face it. The holidays are stressful. Routines are turned upside down, expectations are high, and the emotional triggers are everywhere. Maybe this year feels overwhelming with family and work events, endless obligations. Maybe this year feels lonely and empty, wishing your situation was different than it is. Maybe this year you’re dreading family gatherings and hot topic debates. Or just maybe this year you’re ready to try something new and reclaim your joy.
While the holidays may inherently cause stress, we can choose how we respond to these stressors. We can try breaking old patterns and entering into each moment with greater grace and compassion. Challenge yourself to try just one new strategy this week.
Instead of rigidly attaching yourself to a fantasy of how things SHOULD be, try enjoying WHAT IS. When we focus on how people, events, interactions should be, we are robbed of appreciating what is right in front of us. We may dream of recreating childhood memories or expect everything to go perfectly. Be honest about these fantasies. They are typically unrealistic and a setup for disappointment. Instead, if we allowed ourselves to shed these burdensome expectations, we might find more ease and humor in the reality of our daily moments. So the visit to Santa wasn’t blissfully joyful or the dinner with family wasn’t filled with entirely pleasant conversations. There was arguing, frustration, and tears in these idyllic family moments. But perhaps there were also moments to enjoy a child’s hand in yours, the great food shared, or singing along to the radio by yourself in the car. Find the real moments of joy and celebrate them.
Instead of seeking others’ approval and understanding, try focusing on self-compassion. We all want to be truly understood and seen by others. It’s normal to seek this kind of validation, especially from the people we are closest to. Yet it if we do not already feel self-compassion, we are left vulnerable and sensitive to rejection. In fact, we may assume rejection even when the other person doesn’t intend it. We must first give ourselves love and understanding so that we don’t really need it from others. Others do not need to see the world the way we do or agree with our opinions for us to feel okay. We can feel grounded and whole in our own hearts and let go of needing validation from others.
Instead of waiting for others to listen to you, try listening to others. True listening for understanding is rare in daily conversation. More often, we listen just long enough for formulate a response. So we’re really only half listening as we think of a witty remark or impressive statement or how this story relates to our own lives. Yet we all just want others to really hear us. So try giving to others what you seek. Try listening with an open heart and the willingness to take someone else’s perspective. You do not have to agree with them to hear them. You will find yourself speaking less and learning more. You may even find yourself feeling more closely connected to the people in your life.
Instead of trying to make others happy, try taking responsibility for your own happiness. Everyone is in charge of their own happiness. This may seem like an obvious statement, yet we find ourselves frequently feeling responsible for other’s well-being. We get sucked into trying to create magic for others, needing them to show joy and appreciation for us to feel successful. We get disappointed and sad when the people we care about aren’t happy. Yet their feelings of happiness are fleeting and not within our control at all. If we take responsibility for only our OWN happiness, then others won’t need to change, perform, or fit into our expectations in order for us to be joyful. This means listening to your heart and responding to your needs from moment to moment. You’re in charge of finding the joy for yourself. More on this topic in the next Lakefront Blog post.
Instead of running yourself ragged, try setting aside time to rest. It can be easy to get over scheduled and fill every available weekend moment with activities. You may actually want to attend each and every activity as well as wrap gifts, bake cookies, and decorate. But even these enjoyable activities will lose their spark when you’re totally exhausted. Give yourself permission to set aside time for rest and rejuvenation regularly. Don’t wait until every errand is crossed off your list before you put your feet up and relax. Get to bed on time and pace the activities to feel your best. Think of balancing the activities that give you energy with those that suck away your energy.
Instead of feeling obligated to serve everyone’s needs, try setting healthy limits and saying no. It’s important to notice when we start doing things with resentment. We might agree to take on tasks or go to events simply because we feel obligated or think we owe it to someone. This can leave us feeling irritable and bitter. Choosing to say no and set limits is an act of love for ourselves and the people in our lives. When we choose to do those things that genuinely feel meaningful and that we can put our full hearts into, then others know that our “yes” is a true yes. We can be more present and fully enjoy our choices when we set healthy limits. Remember, you’re not responsible to make others happy.
This recipe for holiday joy involves a daily practice, even a moment to moment choice, to try doing things differently. It’s tough to change old habits and easy to get sucked into familiar conflicts, guilt, pressure. Even with the best intentions you’ll find yourself hollering at your kids, comparing yourself to others, wearing yourself thin. Be kind to yourself as you make efforts to do it differently this year. Every little shift counts. Celebrate your efforts. And allow yourself to seek support in your journey, whether it’s from family, friends, or a professional.
Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, and parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology at 216-870-9816.