“Enjoying the holidays.” As a kid, you probably got super excited about them with thoughts of eating too much candy on Halloween, dozing off into a turkey coma while watching football or a parade, or counting down the days to Christmas. As an adult, you may identify with the common, collective groan surrounding the upcoming holiday season. Balancing work, school schedules, (sometimes) demanding extended family, and exceedingly high expectations sets so many of us up for emotional disasters. If I am not careful, I can find myself stuck in an over-commit and under-deliver cycle leaving me tired, frustrated, and feeling like I missed the “spirit” of the holiday season.
How can we adults get back to a place of enjoying the holidays? Your Holly-Jolly Therapist Elf (me) suggests a healthy helping of connection and togetherness this holiday season. Yes, that is much easier said than done, so here are a few helpful tips (no tricks) to keep you and your loved ones connected while mitigating potential holiday conflict.
- Develop a Family “Holiday Wish List”
Most people have a wish-list of presents they would like to receive around the holidays. What would it look like if you sat down with your family and developed a “wish list” for family engagement this holiday season? Try sitting down as a family, however that looks for you, and discussing what each person looks forward to the most surrounding the holidays. Then make a list of all the “must haves” for your holiday season! Who likes to bake Christmas cookies with grandma? Who NEEDS to go Black Friday shopping at midnight? Does anyone want to go to the park and play a family game of football after Thanksgiving lunch? Make your list of the most important events/activities together and then make sure that your collective time gets spent on those things! Be sure that this list is a reasonable length for your family; don’t try to cram every little thing into one holiday season. No one will enjoy that. This can help foster a sense of closeness and cohesion within your family and prevent everyone from the burnout that comes with trying to do too many activities in such a short period of time.
- Just Say “NO”
On that same note, just say no to all of the extra holiday events and activities that you and your family will receive invites to. It is all too easy to get bogged down with what seems like a million commitments. Don’t try to do it all, for yourself or for your kids. Stick to your “wish list” and foster quality time with your family over quantity time. You, your kids, and your relatives will all enjoy each other more when you aren’t on edge from the emotional exhaustion and burnout of attending five holiday parties the week before Christmas. Make sure you factor in time for you and your kids to rest so you can all be your best selves and make the most of your time together.
- Set and Communicate Reasonable Expectations
One of the deepest pitfalls of my holiday season has always been unmet expectations. Whether I have high expectations for myself, others, or events, if they go unmet, I can spiral into a “grinch-like” mood in no time! Before you find yourself in a similar situation, try analyzing your own expectations surrounding holidays, events, parties, traditions, etc. and ask yourself, “Are these expectations attainable?” For instance, if your kids always wake up at 5 am on Christmas morning and want to open presents immediately, expectations of a laid-back breakfast in bed may be unreasonable. The next step is to modify those expectations, and the final, most important step of setting expectations is COMMUNICATION! After dealing with your breakfast in bed expectation, you might communicate to your children that presents won’t be opened before seven o-clock and that you will stay in bed until that time. Make sure you communicate the expectations that you have with those involved in your holiday events and activities. Unspoken and, consequently, unmet expectations are one of the biggest areas of conflict in relationships and can be mitigated through intentional conversation. You can use this with your spouse, significant other, children, in-laws, parents, friends — anyone! This simple step may help you to avoid unnecessary, stressful conflicts and bring you closer to those you love and appreciate.
- TRADITIONS, TRADITIONS, TRADITIONS!
One of the best ways families and friends can establish cohesion and togetherness is through shared traditions! Shared experience builds emotional intimacy in close relationships, and holiday traditions can be an excellent tool to do this within and
outside your family. It can be so fun to pass on a tradition you grew up with to your own children or start a new “Friendsgiving” tradition with your tribe! If you did not grow up with a lot of traditions, start something new this year. Make a point of gathering together and discussing what you would like to try on as a new holiday tradition. It could be something as simple as a movie night, or as grand as a trip to “skip” Christmas. You can also incorporate these traditions into your family or friends “Wish List.” Just make sure you don’t use these traditions to add pressure to yourself. If a previous tradition has not worked out for you and your family, throw it out! If you try something new and it doesn’t turn out just right, try it differently next year! The tradition is a tool, not an end goal, for your holiday season. Keep your focus on togetherness and enjoying those who are most important to you rather than the details of the tradition itself.
This time of year can be incredibly stressful, but it also has potential to be joyful and en-JOY-able! What you choose to focus on can greatly impact your emotional experience of the holiday season. If you are dreading the end of the year and all that it brings, I want to gently challenge you to refocus your attention on togetherness and genuine enjoyment of those who are most important in your life. Hopefully these few tips can help you to sort through the crazy of the holidays and find fulfillment in what matters most to you.
If enjoying the holidays and navigating the relationships involved sounds like something you could use help with, Dawn Institute is always here to provide you quality, trauma-informed services. Reach out today to schedule an appointment and, as always, thanks for being a part of the Dawn Difference!