Despite everyone shouting, “Happy Holidays!”, this time of year is often a mixed blessing. Time spent connecting with friends and family over the holidays doesn’t always conjure up warm feelings and happy memories while roasting chestnuts by the fireplace. Sometimes just knowing we are going to be spending time with people who don’t always make us feel warm and fuzzy creates quite the opposite – additional stress and anxiety!
Unresolved issues and personality differences heighten our awareness of the strife that continues with added external pressure (from others, from society) to put all that aside because “it is after all the holidays.” What? Let’s face it, this can be challenging!
Additional pressure, stress, and anxiety to do more, spend more money, crank it up to the “nth” degree and find a way to cram everything in from soup to nuts both personally and professionally by the end of the year leaves us feeling overwhelmed and anything but happy.
BUT, there is hope! Although I am far from having all the answers; I have found through my own introspection (an ongoing and not always a pretty process) and helping others, there are things I do – and being mindful of these things year round – that have helped me create greater happiness and feel less overwhelmed. These might just help you, too!
1. Embrace family differences. In my family, despite our differences, I have a colorful, complex, dynamic, and loving family. I cannot imagine my life without any of them. However, embracing family differences is sometimes easier said than done. Although this has proven challenging for me at times, I am a work in progress.
One thing I did and continue to do (though not always perfectly) is embrace changes that I needed to make. I changed my mindset to one of greater understanding and acceptance for whom my family is as well as whom they are not. Making that change has been immeasurably beneficial for me and is directly linked to my happiness.
2. Set personal boundaries. I have learned through trial and error (more than once, mind you) how to set personal boundaries with my time, money, and availability. Having been a people pleaser most of my life and adverse to conflict, in the past I would say yes, when I really wanted to say no. I will never forget the purple and yellow button I had when I was younger, that said, “I just said no and I don’t feel guilty!”
Teaching myself how to say no to small things, helped me say no to bigger things.
As I continued to do this, I became more confident in myself and in my decisions. Setting boundaries has created enormous freedom for me.
3. Focus on the positives. I focus on the positives rather than the negatives. For example, although I do not have the opportunity to spend the holidays with all my family at the same time due to distance, lifestyles, blended families, I work on spending individual time with my family in an effort to create new traditions and memories. This helps me focus on the overall picture (not just one specific period of time during the year) and cherish family experiences.
4. Boost Those Endorphins. Anything feels more manageable when you feel healthy, strong and well-rested. So be good to yourself. Maintain good energy by exercising, taking a time out, or spending some time alone. Breathe. Laugh. Repeat.
5. Curb the merry (a little). Yes, this is the season of cheer, but too much alcohol lowers our inhibitions. We have less control over what we say and the tone we use. The likelihood for arguments and misunderstandings goes way up. This is also the season where we tend to overeat because food is simply everywhere. When stress and conflict go up, our ability to make healthy food choices goes down. Learning to manage the conflict and monitor your mood will help you stay on track with food and alcohol choices.
6. Have realistic expectations. Ask yourself, what are your expectations for the holidays? We all have them. Are you expecting the perfect holiday? Move away from perfection and anticipation about how things may or may not turn out. This helps decrease frustration and disappointment. I realize it’s not always possible to “just smile and get along” and pretend everything is ok, but sometimes a smile does go a long way. Just ask my father!
7. Reach out and connect. Relationships take work year round, so don’t postpone having a difficult conversation during the holidays. Its important to address issues and problems when they occur rather than letting them fester and possibly explode during the holidays. This will help reduce conflict and increase happiness during the holidays!
8. Don’t take life too seriously! At least not all the time. Humor and levity absolutely go a long way!
Enjoy your holidays!! Happy New Year!!