Most people struggle with distress at the holidays. Days are shorter, the weather gets gloomier, media is full of commercialism, schedules get tighter, sleep suffers, food and drink are simultaneously less healthy and more available, and personal fuses get shorter.
We also spend more time with family members during the holidays – whether we like them or not. Time with family often brings up memories – some good and some traumatic. Behaviors often trigger emotions that are based on those past memories. All of this can contribute to or cause distress.
I personally struggle with distress during the holidays, largely due to family. I have experienced trauma in the past linked to certain family members – some that drink too much, a couple that say inappropriate things, a few that don’t care about being together or even communicating. Former happy traditions died early, and no one attempted to create new ones. Gifts became thoughtless and just an obligation. My two marriages both ended during this time. I lost an immediate family member and the love of my life at the beginning of the holiday season. I have been alone in some years on the actual holidays. I have dealt with (or attempted to numb) a great deal of grief over Thanksgiving and Christmas. All of that has made me very anxious about and even fearful of the holidays and what they might bring. Though I have often been hopeful that it would change at some point, I am generally apprehensive about being around my family and loved ones during this time. We seemed to have lost the reason for the season a long time ago.
I don’t know if any of this sounds familiar to you, but I suspect it does to some. The good news is there are ways to deal with this distress and move back toward a place of positive connection, gratitude for family, and creating happy memories. Because I am a coach (and I have a coach!), I work on this and am optimistic I will move through these feelings to a place where I am once again excited about the holidays like I was when I was a little girl.
Here are some tips to try to manage your distress and create the holiday experience you desire.
- It is important to practice gratitude during this season for all that you have, which, yes, includes your crazy, dysfunctional family! Be grateful you have family and the ability to be with some of them. Tony Robbins says you cannot feel fear or anger while you are feeling grateful, and I believe this. So practice being grateful for what you have.
- Take a time out from being with family when you need it. Go to the gym, go for a walk, go to a quiet place to read or journal or meditate or just be. You can even combine this with the first one – go for a gratitude walk*. Notice everything around you on the walk with gratitude – from the weather to the trees to the people or animals you see. Stepping away from a stressful situation can calm you.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Try to see their behaviors as a result of the distress they may be feeling over the holidays. We all have our issues, and it could very well be that they are reacting to things that have triggered them. Assume they are doing the best they can, and it will help you do the same.
- Be a tourist with your family*. When we travel to a foreign country we are often accepting of different behaviors because we attribute them up to the different culture we are in – maybe that is normal for them. So when with your family, see them as a group from another country – or even another planet if that helps! It may provide some humor for you as well, and we all know that laughter helps relieve distress.
- Don’t let interactions be a sneak attack*. We often try to give people the benefit of the doubt that they will act differently this time – I am guilty of this. When we do, it feels like the behaviors they display regularly are a surprise. Expect the same behaviors and you won’t be disappointed or hurt, and if they do act differently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! If you anticipate the same behaviors, you can better plan your response to them.
We hope this helps you to have a happier and less stressful holiday season! And we are incredibly grateful to you for your interest in and support of Uninhibited Wellness!
*Adapted from articles in Regenerate Magazine’s November/December 2016 issue