Let’s get the overstatement of the year out of the way right at the top, ok?
“2021 HAS BEEN A CHALLENGING YEAR FOR A LOT OF US.”
Ugh, ok, we’ve said it, and we’re not the first ones, but at least we can all acknowledge that and move on, eh?
We’ve all experienced some ups and downs, well, basically our whole lives, but the past 18 months have been a truly remarkable rollercoaster. And maybe it’s left you, or someone you care about, feeling a little less than excited for the celebrations we’re used to here at the end of the year.
While there is no “right” way to celebrate (or not, if that’s the case) that applies to every single one of us, there is definitely a healthy way to navigate the feelings of trauma, loss, anxiety, etc. that we might be feeling and end the year by taking care of the most important person in your life (That’s you, ya goof).
To help us sort out these complicated feelings, we invited Lynn Meinders from the Ascension Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to lend us her expertise and a healthy dose of perspective.
For starters, let’s look at some of the signs you might need to restructure your plans to give yourself a break this holiday season – or anytime, really.
- You’re using all your mental and emotional resources to plan before the event even happens.
- You take on all the responsibility for everyone else’s good time. And they let you.
- You’ve taken your stress out on someone you care about.
- You’re drinking, eating, or sleeping more than you know is normal for you.
- You feel like numbing yourself, or you’re procrastinating more than usual.
- You have a sense of dread or guilt over the ways conflicted relationships will affect a gettogether.
- You’re experiencing new or worsening anxiety as celebrations approach.
- You’re making unhealthy comparisons and judging yourself harshly.
Do any of those sound familiar?
It’s not a complete list, but you know yourself the best. If something feels off, it’s a sign to check in with yourself and decide how you can make the best of the holiday season.
Let’s look at some common holiday stressors and how you might choose a different way to deal with them.
1. Juggling all the family celebrations.
As both biological and chosen families change and grow, the expectations around who meets where and when change and grow with them.
We invest a lot of time and emotional energy trying to balance multiple get-togethers on major holidays, and the stress can take a toll. And that’s before you even spend the day shuttling from place to place.
Lynn says, “It’s not uncommon as a counselor when people are discussing the stress of holidays to talk about … the juggle of how you get to share time.”
There’s no magic potion that will make your cousin handle it gracefully when you decline an invitation to their “Great Gadsby Themed Friendsgiving”, but you should still give yourself that permission.
An honest response like, “I love to spend time with you, but I need to conserve some of my energy.” And a sincere invitation for a visit, once the holiday rush is over, will go a long way toward keeping the peace.
2. Not seeing eye-to-eye
Even before the political/emotional/ideological forces that seem to have divided a lot of us recently, some families struggled to keep the peace at their get-togethers. Some families are fully united in how they want to approach gatherings and celebrations; others are at odds.
You might be feeling some dread as we’re thinking about what, if any, precautions we still need to take, who might cause friction, and how that will affect our relationships in the future. Some families can navigate that divide, and others fail to.
Lynn points out for some of us, “…It’s hard to resume what we used to do. There’s an awareness that this feels strange to us.”
It’s essential to check in with yourself and decide what feels right for you and your immediate circle. If you believe everyone at a big gathering can keep things friendly and drama-free, you should enjoy the time you have together. But if your gut is telling you that it’s going to turn ugly, don’t feel pressured to show up and suffer in silence (or join the fight). Everyone deserves peace, and sometimes that means fewer plates on the table.
Give the people you care about paths for reaching in, and be gentle on yourself if they choose not to use them.
3. Pandemic related loss
We’re going through something that we’ve never gone through before, and many of us are grieving, even if we don’t see it that way. Loss of jobs, close relationships, even personal routines can throw us into mourning.
“There are all kinds of grief,” Lynn tells us, and that can cause some unexpected symptoms. “I’ve heard a lot of that from folks talking about their memory, or ‘I’m not tracking time the same way.’”
“I think that this pandemic has brought on familiar levels of grief… all of us have been impacted by it.”
Whether we’re all conscious of it or not, we’re still pushing through a historical event. Life continued on through all of the challenges of Covid, and we had to continue too without knowing when and if it would go back to normal.
Anytime we’re feeling a little lost, returning to traditions can help us find our footing again. Following holiday traditions can give you a sense of connection, cohesion, and just the right amount of normalcy to let you relax and enjoy the time.
4. The loss of a loved one
Holidays and special occasions any time of the year can be a struggle if you’re working through grief, and everyone handles it differently.
“Grief, in particular, is something that is very personal.”, Lynn tells us.
“When there has been a loss that people are actively grieving what happens around the holidays, for a lot of people, feels like ‘I don’t have the energy to put out my normal amount of effort, and I don’t know where I will get that energy from.”
Give yourself permission to set aside your usual obligations if they feel too heavy right now. You don’t have to make all the cookies, or send the cards, or host your usual big party if it will take too much of the energy you’re using to heal. Be mindful of your own capacity and check-in frequently to prevent overextending yourself.
Know that you can always bring those traditions back if and when you’re able or that this year can signal a change in traditions in the future.
For some of us, the holidays are stressful enough that we’d prefer to avoid them.
Lynn offers this advice: “…for some people, the best thing is to keep it pretty low-key and not do the things that feel like ‘Shoulds’.”
Even if one of these scenarios doesn’t apply to you right now, it’s important to remember that holidays and the traditions that come with them are meant to bring us comfort and joy (to misquote a famous hymn badly) and not create more stress than we can handle.
It’s always a good time to think carefully about the obligations you’re keeping and if they still make sense. Families have things that feel sacred and special and that we do out of habit.
Know the difference in your family and ask yourself:
Does it feel like it’s worth it? Does it give us what we need?
If the answer to either of those is no, it might be time for the kind of change that will bring you the peace you deserve.
(Want to hear Lynn’s full interview? Check out this episode of the Awsomology Podcast from our friends at Exclamation Services!)