How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

By John Howard and Peter Craig – December 1, 2018

You Don’t Have To


    Many people feel they have to indulge what their family wants over the holidays, but ask yourself if it’s what you really enjoy. It’s a special time of year, so do something that’s fun for you. Many people have some vacation time around the end of the year, make sure you’re using it to regenerate, not tire yourself doing things that aren’t restorative.


Make Your Own Tradition


    You may feel some cultural or family pressure to celebrate the holidays a certain way, but give yourself permission to create your own traditions. For example, if you value the holidays as a time to be close with family and friends, think of the most meaningful way to experience that time with them. It may not be sitting in a house eating food — it could be a trip or activity or adventure of some sort. If you’re in a relationship or have kids, you can create a holiday tradition together that inspires everyone — one that brings you and your partner closer together, for example.


Lots of Self-Care and Me Time


    The holidays can be tiring and stressful due to hosting or visiting, social expectations, being outside our usual routine such as our food habits, and lots of activity. Don’t be shy about scheduling some ‘me’ time to care for yourself. For example, if you’re planning to spend a day around lots of family members that don’t always get along, meet them for lunch and then schedule a 2-hour outing for yourself in the afternoon to go to the gym, read a book at a coffee shop, get your nails done, or go watch a movie. Breaking up the time around others will help you stay your best self when you’re with others.


Stay Connected to Your Closest Peeps


    Sometimes when we host, or get together with others socially, we feel the responsibility to interact with guests and lose track of our significant others. There’s a different way to host where you stand side-by-side and hold hands with your partner as you host or interact with others. OK, that might be a little extreme, but you get the point. You can enjoy social activities together with your closest friends and partners in a way that ‘shares’ that experience rather than splitting off and reconnecting later. Going in with that joint mindset often makes social outings more fun and builds your most important relationships as you experience various events.


Gather ‘Round Friends if You’re Single


    The holidays are a wonderful time of rest and connection for many, but not for all. Many of you may be single or don’t have family in Austin to gather with. For folks who don’t have local contacts to get together with, holiday messaging and seeing everyone else connect with friends and family can leave some feeling lonely and isolated. If you’re in that boat, you might reach out to friends to see if you can tag along to things they’re doing. You can also try to connect yourself with local groups that host get-togethers and parties for those who don’t have family in town. Those can be fun, and you meet like-minded people who are also wanting to make deeper connections in town. Service work and helping those in need is another way to connect yourself and have a meaningful holiday.


Relax and Have Down Time


    One of the biggest complaints we get as therapists about the holidays is that they’re stressful. Imagine that! A time of year that is supposed to give us a break, help us relax and reset, and reflect on the year to come actually can actually create stress! The stress is often due to hosting, being around family, social expectations, trying to pick out presents, and the busyness of it all. You have to be proactive to keep stress out of your holidays. Identify the 3 sources that create the most stress for you over the holidays, and ask yourself how you can take the stress out of them. For example, if buying gifts is stressful, maybe you have a family member who loves that who might be happy to do it for you? If cooking is stressful, can you ask a friend or sibling to team up with you or pick some of it up at the store? If family expectations are stressful, consider placing boundaries on the length of time and activities that are planned.


Be Yourself


    There’s another interesting thing we sometimes do around the holidays. We tuck away our real self for a couple weeks while family is around so as to ‘get along’ better. The result, however, is that family connecting is less meaningful and more of a chore. Be yourself! Don’t hide who you really are in your usual day-to-day life when you’re at social functions or home around family. If you focus on things that excite you and feel license to be fully you, activities can be more fulfilling and fun. For example, some empty-nesters change when their kids come home to visit, afraid to show a new side of themselves. Many people revert back to some awkward, less-than-authentic version of themselves around their parents. Let it fly, and encourage your family members to show you their true selves as well!


Speak to People from Your Heart


    One of the things we sometimes dread about social and family gatherings is the inevitable political discussions and disagreements, cultural differences, debates around world events, or just banal talk about sports and the weather (sorry sports fans). The holidays are an opportunity to really speak from your heart. Think about one meaningful thing you want to say to each person you will be with, and take time to deliver it with eye contact, face to face. People are more nostalgic over the holidays, and may be open to connecting more deeply than in the grind of day-to-day life. Those connections can last throughout the year. To avoid senseless social banter, speak from your heart about things you may have struggled with this year, and ask about others in a more personal way. You might set aside time around New Years to go around in a group and hear each loved one reflect on the year and set a goal for the next.


With these tips you can more easily turn the holidays into a time of rest, enjoyment, relaxation, and deep, meaningful connection that serves you, inspires you, and helps you reset for the year to come. Create a holiday season that works for you. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!


John Howard and Peter Craig are psychotherapists at Austin Professional Counseling™. They help their clients lower anxiety, heal depression, improve relationships and more.


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