As she lifted the page on the calendar to reveal “December,” Sue could feel the tension in her body rising. Her throat began to tighten. Looking across the coming dates with their “command performance appearances” at her parents’ line-up of holiday parties, she thought back to her husband Jeff’s annual Thanksgiving blowout (or was it blow up?), her kids’ classroom celebrations at school, Scouts events, cheerleading parties, church services… It was overwhelming. She felt the weight pushing down on her, and she could only imagine how heavy that would become as more “event deadlines” drew near. Could hiding in bed or pouring herself a strong drink make it all go away? Probably not.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Many meet the holiday season with feelings of dread instead of excitement, expectation, or relaxation. How many times will you hear someone say in the next few months, “I’ll be glad when the holidays are over.” Isn’t “glad” how we should feel about the holidays, not the ending of them? The holidays should be enjoyable. For some, that may not be the case.
If you or someone you know may be susceptible to the holiday blues of stress, sadness and emptiness, here are a few battle tactics to tackle the blues head on this year… and win!
1. Manage your expectations.
It takes work to avoid setting yourself up for disappointment. You hope Uncle Josh won’t have too much to drink, but it’s been a pattern since you were a kid. You hope the kids will be “all in” to make the family portrait sitting a memorable, heartwarming experience. You hope no one will pick a fight at the dinner table, that no one will gripe about gifts or a lack thereof, and that everything will go according to plan… your plan, that is.
As you approach the next “command performance activity,” prepare yourself ahead of time. Ask yourself not what you hope for, but what is a reasonable, achievable outcome? What parts of the day are in your control and how can you make sure they run smoothly? Hope is a great thing, but so is reality. Don’t be cynical; just set your expectations low enough to be pleasantly surprised.
2. Hold your position.
Discuss your Resource Expenditure Plan with your family in advance. What I mean is: talk about how you’ll be spending your money, time, and energy over the holidays. Set a budget together (kids included!) for gifts and events. Decide which events to sit out and which to attend, and always decide in advance how long you will stay. If your relatives push back (and they very well might,) a wonderful response is simply “I wish we could make it, but that just won’t work with all that we have going on this year.”
3. Intentionally resist the temptation to compare or compete.
Social media makes this very difficult. Comparison is a sure-fire way to bring yourself down. You’re inviting an unwanted guest in, to stay until you figure out how to throw them out. Don’t do it. Competition is even worse. If you can’t control the urge to spend the holidays trying to “keep up with the Jones,” consider a break from social media. Do whatever you need to take the pressure off.
4. Go to bed.
Some days are hard even when you are refreshed and ready. Don’t make them more difficult, especially around the holidays, by not getting enough rest. Go to bed, and make sure your kiddos do the same.
5. Adopt this mantra: “One day at a time.”
If you don’t say this as often as you need, it, you’ll end up living by a very different mantra: “How many days’ worth of stuff can I do today?” You can only do one day’s worth of work in a day. If you look at your holiday to-do list and the odds are already against you, think of ways to lighten the burden. It’s better to back out of a commitment in advance than hours before.
6. Make a gratitude list.
This is my favorite battle tactic. Gratitude physiologically alters your body and brain chemistry. So, I suggest a fun game. This game is for one or many players, of all ages. You might play it with the whole family over a meal, or you can play it while sitting in traffic. You can play it almost anywhere. Here’s how it goes. “Say, out loud, as many things as you can think of that you’re grateful for, in 30 seconds. Go.” It’s fun, and more importantly, it works.
Take THAT, holiday blues!
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.