Turning the Holiday Season from Harrowing to Healthy (…and This Is NOT about Food!)

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The major holiday season is closely approaching.

It is a time of anticipation, celebration, excitement, and fun. The music, festivals, scrumptious baked treats and, oh yes, pumpkin spice everything. The holidays bring amplified busyness with end-of-year work demands, increased spending, preparation and visits with friends and family.

For many of us, “the most wonderful time of the year” is often marred by the heavy dread we feel deep down inside. This is when the tensions within families tend to rise to the surface and threaten to annihilate all our zest for life. Each year, we grit our teeth, hold our breath, and do what we can to make the holiday a better one than the previous.

But it isn’t. It’s still fraught with difficulty, pain, exhaustion, and bad feelings.

The pandemic gave us some reprieve from what I call “the holiday horribles” — we all stayed home and relished in quiet peace, even if it was a lonesome peace. Now that people are gathering again, what can we do to prepare ourselves and our families for a truly happier, merrier holiday season? Here are some ideas.

Maintain distance from problematic people and situations.

We don’t have to invite Angry Aunt Agnes or Cussin’ Cousin Cornelius to spend the week at our place. There is no requirement to attend the company happy holiday hour when you’re working so hard to stay sober or spend within your budget. Doing some preliminary assessment or forecasting of the people and situations which tend to cause too much trouble for you and your family can help you gain some control over what you allow into your life and space. Although we will all be faced with unavoidable difficulties in life, we don’t have to submit to unnecessary ones just because it’s the holiday season.

Manage holiday expectations upfront and early.

For yourself, your children and those around you. Whether you are facing financial difficulties this year – so many are — or you are emotionally or psychologically drained, settle in your heart and with those close to you that you may not be able to participate in much of the jolly and merriment that you may have been accustomed to. It is acceptable to make wiser, more carefully curated choices about how you spend money, energy and time this holiday. Be ready to ruffle some feathers and perhaps receive some cold reception.  Remember that those kinds of responses are not a reflection on you or your level of commitment to those relationships.  Let each person be responsible for their own attitudes.

Learn to say no, or “maybe in a few months.”

Friends, there really are 365 days in every year. This means that we have adequate time to meet up and gather with those we love. Must we cram our traveling, gathering, and visiting into such a short period of time? Can we skip out on laboring over that old family recipe for this holiday season? Can we say no to that prized solo in this year’s Christmas concert? It is hard but say “no” we must if we want to guard our strength and sanity.

When we moms are stretched thin, our families feel it.  We become grouchy and unpleasant.  And even more, we don’t enjoy the beauties of the season. Here is a tip: Stand in front of your bathroom mirror, Momma. Think of the myriad opportunities which will present themselves in the next few weeks. As you think of them, practice saying “No” or “Let’s try in the New Year” to those things that will cause you to overcommit or overwork.

Keep it simple, Sister.

Let’s find ways to take our endeavors and movement down a few notches. Think over your past holidays. What undertakings brought the most stress or dread? If there aren’t ways to eliminate those efforts, how can you scale them back to lessen your load?

Serve and give.

Although this seems counterintuitive based on what I have already shared, it is true: taking our eyes and minds off of holiday-consuming and redirecting some of that energy to contributing can lessen our stress responses and bring added joy and meaning to the holidays.  Extending love to even one person (not for the show of it, but for the genuine desire to dispense good) can help keep the essence of the holiday season in the forefront.  Serving others also brings blessing to their lives. Our children can learn so much from this focus, and in turn they will make serving and giving priorities in their lives. There is an old proverb which says, “Little drops of water make the mighty ocean.”

Establish boundaries in your relationships and reinforce them.

Healthy boundaries are good for all relationships, all the time. If people around you disregard common-sense boundaries, take time to learn how to set and reinforce boundaries. I took the time to learn (by the way, I am still learning) and it transformed my way of relating to others. I’ve learned not to apologize for setting boundaries. We must be mindful about teaching and promoting this for our children. Our children should be shielded from unhealthy dynamics they may encounter during the holiday season, in our homes and as we go out visiting and gathering. Peace, love and respect are important concepts for healthy relationships, and we do well to ensure that those who enter our spaces during the holidays understand this.

Let go of the social media charade.

I love social media, to a certain extent. We should all know by now that a large percentage of what we see on social media is not the real deal. Yet, we are still intrigued by the imaging and we are tempted to use social media to make our lives seem more put together and inspiring than they are. Who doesn’t love beautiful pictures? I do. Yet, trying to keep up the images and personas on social media can be draining and isolating. This is a reminder to all of us that we won’t ever lose points for keeping it real.

Be kind to yourself.

Make sure to get good rest. Slip away for some blocks of quiet, downtime. Drink more water. Give yourself permission to exit that party when the time is right.  Make sure your children do this too.

Stay connected.

Keep close to those who fill your cup with good. We all need at least one person who keeps us grounded, reminds us of what is true, helps us to laugh and brings proper perspective.

Change perspective.

Speaking of perspective, sometimes we need to adjust our view of people and situations to move forward.  It may be a need to forgive or seek forgiveness on a longstanding offense.  We may need to meet our relatives where they are and embrace the beauty they do bring.  The pandemic has helped us reevaluate many things in our lives — time is short. We may need to release the burdensome expectations we place on ourselves as mothers, caregivers, wives, community members, leaders, etc.

However we choose to celebrate the upcoming holidays, may they be different for us, in good ways.  May we and those we know enjoy healthier relationships and more peaceful engagements, with generous shares of pumpkin spice everything!

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