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Surviving the Holidays


It’s that time of year again: time with family, shopping for gifts, parties, travel, food. Some of you read that sentence with a smile on your face. You look forward to those things with excitement and anticipation. Others, not so much. For some, time with family means judgmental or disappointed looks – and sometimes more than just looks. Sometimes, shopping for gifts means struggling to find the funds to pay for gifts that will end up in someone’s closet or, worse yet, being completely alone with no one to buy gifts for. Parties and travel can be looked forward to with dread as socializing and dealing with crowds and unfamiliar circumstances brings more stress than joy. And don’t get me started on the food! There’s food everywhere: cookies and cakes, pies and hams, turkeys and roast beef. If it’s not being put in front of your face to eat it, it’s advertised on the TV and you want it. The whole season can be a source of pain and stress instead of the joy it’s meant to be.

Holidays are supposed to be this magical time where we give thanks for all that we have, give to those who don’t, and surround ourselves with those we love. Why is that so hard? Why does this season frequently equal more pain than pleasure? We each have different answers but one way to cope is to focus on what the season is meant to be instead of on what it has become.

Find the joy

Traditions mean a lot to me. I like doing the same things every year. I like routine. It gives me order and some semblance of control. One tradition I have is my Thanksgiving “Thankful” book. It drives my children crazy: “Oh, do we HAVE to?????” But it gives me joy so, yes, they have to. Since 1994, every Thanksgiving, everyone in attendance writes what they’re thankful for. That means capturing the thoughts of the little kids learning how to write and the great grandparents who know what being thankful really means. It means memories of people who used to share it with us and now are off around the country or no longer with us at all. It’s a simple thing that I treasure. Focusing on that book helps me forget the struggles of who’s going to host and who will be at who’s house. It’s one thing that brings me out of the stress of the holidays and back to the meaning of the holidays. If you struggle at this time of year, think of the things that put a smile on your face and let you experience the joy of the season.

Let go of hurts

Family gatherings can be a major source of stress. Sometimes there’s a lot of hurt going around. It can be hard to remember that these people are a part of your life for better or worse. Remembering the basics – they will not be around forever, they love you in their own way even if you can’t feel that love, and it doesn’t have to be all about how you feel about the situation – can help. This is one of those times where focusing on the love you can show, rather than regretting all the love that you’re not getting, can change your mindset from one of disappointment to one of pleasure.

Remember the “WHY”

Through it all, remember WHY you’re doing all this. You’re celebrating Thanksgiving to think about what you’re thankful for. Yes, there are political influences that have tarnished the day’s reputation but you don’t need to focus on that. You can focus on the positive: being thankful. Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus and the joy He brought. Focus on the love of the season. If you celebrate different holidays at this time of year, find your own positives, and don't dwell on the stresses such as whether or not your holiday is acknowledged or a priority for others.

Know your limitations

Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for you and your sanity. If going to the office Christmas party will send you into a tailspin that will take months to recover from (and for some of us, this is true) think about why you’re going. Is it a job requirement? Is it a social requirement? Or is it one of those things you think you should go to but you really don’t have to go. Learn when to say, “Yes” to things and when to say, “No”. Consider other’s feelings but keep in mind your own as well.

All the negative feelings you have are valid;

I’m not denying the pain the season can bring. I’m only encouraging you to not get caught up in the negatives, to think about the positives and, if necessary, protect yourself from the negative effects. You can get through this time of year. It can be a challenge, but you can do it!

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