It’s the most wonderful time of the year… right? While often advertised as so, the holiday season is a time when many people are the most stressed. Therapists will tell you that we see a spike in referrals during the winter months. What is it about the most wonderful time of the year that makes us feel oh-so-unwonderful?
Winter Is Coming…
Welcome to Chicago, a place where a White Christmas is expected. In the Midwest the change in temperature and light often happens suddenly and this can have a significantly impact on our mood and energy level.
Cramming It in…
While it might be nice to blame it all on the weather, the holiday season is a time when things get extra busy at work. Most people don’t truly get vacation or holiday time. Instead they get to cram extra work in prior to their vacation time and then they get to work like crazy playing catch-up when they return.
Returning home is the closest many of us get to time travel. We step into our parent’s home and are transported to a world where we are treated like we never left. No one recognizes how we’ve grown up and changed, instead all they see is what they remember. We try to fight it but slowly and surely we are transformed back into all the angst and immaturity that previously existed.
Minefield of Questions…
Not only are you struggling with the disorienting effects of time travel, you are also navigating the onslaught of those personal questions that you’d rather not discuss in a large group setting. Yet here you are with the whole family ready to debate your love life, or lack of one; question your recent job choices; interrogate you about your political affiliations and ask you why in the world you chose to wear that sweater. The minefield of questions, expectations and criticism is hard to avoid and even harder to react to calmly.
While many of us are trying to escape our over-involved families, others are struggling with the lack of community and connection. For some, the holiday season is a reminder of their loneliness, their disconnected families and their lack. It’s hard to tap into all that perceived brotherly love when you don’t have people to be with.
Well before you pack it in and decide to avoid all these horrid things by hibernating through the winter, here are some tips to shift from dreading the holidays to improving them. We can’t change the weather, our work load or our families but we can change how we respond.
7 ways to improve your holiday experience:
- If the cold weather and lack of sun is dragging you down get a sun lamp, or even better, plan a tropical vacation to get you somewhere warm and sunny. Not only will that give you something to look forward to, but it will get you those needed rays!
- If you know the holidays means more work before and after your time off set reasonable goals. Most of us care a lot about what we do and want to meet all our expectations at work, even when they are unreasonable. Keep track of what you are accomplishing to keep yourself grounded. Also be aware of how your stress is impacting you; it’s never too late to learn new ways to cope with and reduce your stress!
- When it comes to your family, remember why you want to see them. For many of us being with family might be annoying and frustrating at times, but overall it is deeply meaningful. Despite the questions and being treated like we are children, our love and connection to our families is a vital part of who we are. Why? Why is time with your family important to you? Think through your answers to those questions and be prepared with those loving and values based thoughts; they’ll help calm you down when the next person asks you who you’re dating and why you cut your hair.
- Also, remember you’re an adult! You may have traveled back in time but you come with all the experience, maturity and lessons you've learned! You can always change the subject, excuse yourself to the bathroom or utilize other distraction techniques to shift the conversation away from those uncomfortable topics. Being prepared with a few one liners to shift the topic is a great way to get out of those sticky dinner table debates.
- For some visiting family is a duty to be tolerated or a painful ordeal. If that’s you, I would challenge you to think through who you want to be spending time with and investing in. It might be worth reducing time with family and increasing time with the people who really matter to you. Spending time with those who accept and love you is also a great buffer when parts of your holiday celebrations are tense and difficult.
- If you are struggling with loneliness know that you are not alone. Reaching out and connecting to others may feel more difficult in the holiday season when you assume everyone else is busy, but you’ll be surprise how many others feel just like you. Take a chance and get in touch with someone.
- If you don’t know who to reach out to, or find yourself coming up empty after trying to connect, I challenge you to do something meaningful and valuable for others. It may not change your experience of loneliness but it will help make a difference for someone else. Think of groups that might be lonely this holiday season and try and connect with them. It could be as simple as donating money or time to a nonprofit, or volunteering with an organization that does work you find meaningful. While it doesn’t erase your struggle, you get to be part of making someone else’s struggle better. Isn’t that what this season is all about?
Need more help?
Your holidays don’t have to be filled with stress, pressure and loneliness. Focusing your mind and energy towards the things that are meaningful can help you enjoy this season and make it more enjoyable for others. If you don't know where to start, set up a time to talk to a friend or find a coach or a therapist and work on ways to support yourself and your community, you’ll be glad you did.