November 1st marks the beginning of the holiday season for many. And holiday seasons are stressful. Routines are different, expectations are high, calendars fill up quickly, and sleep is often cut short. We tend to get so consumed with making everyone happy and fulfilling each obligation that we end up feeling frazzled and depleted. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s most joyful and meaningful to you. Perhaps this holiday season it’s time to make a few shifts within yourself to focus your energy where it’s most meaningful.
Take inventory of your emotional response to the holidays. Do you find yourself feeling excited and full of energy? Or are you feeling dread and weighed down by stress? Maybe you have a mix of feelings depending on the day or the event at hand. We all respond differently to the holidays depending on what we expect of ourselves and how things have gone in the past. Many of us spend so much energy focused on anticipating everyone else’s moods and needs that we give little attention to our own moods and needs. Allow yourself to notice and be aware of the feelings that surface during the holidays so you can respond with greater sensitivity to yourself. When we make choices that are consistent with our authentic selves, we feel more calm and present.
Prioritize the events and traditions that matter most. Choose the parts of the holiday season that have the most meaning for you and create time for them that is non-negotiable. Then you can make certain these things are given adequate time and energy before your family calendar fills up with events of all kinds. If you love baking with your kids, then reserve a day for this activity now. If volunteering at a soup kitchen is really meaningful to you, then add this to your calendar first. Be honest with yourself about what matters most to you rather than what fulfills obligations or expectations. Allow yourself to go all out on the holiday traditions you really love and bask in the pure joy of it.
Allow yourself to cut corners and set boundaries. Once you’ve prioritized what matters most to you during the holiday season, you more easily recognize those things that matter less. Give yourself permission to take time and energy away from these less meaningful tasks. This may mean saying no to the tiresome work party or labor-intensive cookie exchange. It may mean buying pre-made treats for the class party or appetizers for the potluck. Maybe you let yourself take a year off from sending holiday cards or decorating the house. And view these decisions to cut back as gifts to yourself as you better allocate that energy on the things you most care about. Imagine you are pruning a rose bush, cutting off the parts that suck your energy so the blooms that matter most will flourish.
Focus your energy on deepening relationships during social gatherings. While it may seem obvious that we are socializing during social gatherings, the quality of social interaction often feels pretty superficial. Many people describe walking away from a holiday gathering feeling surprisingly drained, lonely, or disappointed. Often, we spend our energy on tending to everyone’s needs, running around hosting and making sure everyone has food and drink. Or we get caught up in old patterns interacting with people, seeking approval or validation which leaves us feeling a familiar sense of tension. This is exhausting.
Instead try focusing on just one or two people to have deeper conversations with and discover how this feels more fulfilling and energizing. You can choose someone you just met or someone you know fairly well. Ask more personal questions than the typical superficial checking in and really listen to the answers. See if you can learn more about their history, their opinions, their passions. Share about yourself on a deeper level too. We rarely have opportunities to share our inner thoughts and feelings or to tell stories about our lives. A focused conversation where you begin to connect more intimately will give you both a more meaningful experience.
Set aside time to rest and reflect. We often get so caught up in the busyness of the holidays that we rarely have the opportunity to sit still and enjoy the moment. This involves allowing yourself both physical rest as well as mental rest. You need a break from the mental work of planning, list making, scheduling, and organizing. Give yourself permission to take regular breaks from these physical and mental tasks so you can focus on being present in the experience. It can be helpful to focus the busy mind on physical sensations, like the sights, smells, and sounds all around you. Allow yourself to sit and absorb it all, even for just a couple minutes at a time.
These small changes in how you approach the holidays can help you feel radically more relaxed and joyful. It’s a daily practice to resist the urge of responding to each and every request for your time and energy. Having support helps. Consider asking a friend or family member to try making these changes with you so that you can encourage one another. Give each other a high five when you see the other person following through on these changes. And praise each other for setting new boundaries or refocusing when either of you get off track. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. This kind of change is rooted in loving and honoring yourself. You too deserve to enjoy the holiday season in a meaningful way!
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, or 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.