The holidays are almost here! And while they’re supposed to be a time filled with joy and cheer, let’s face it: sometimes they’re not so joyful.
By now we should all know that this time of year can be alllll kinds of triggering. As Ram Dass once said: “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family.” Now that dude is hilarious and correct.
But the puzzle is bigger than just that! Family issues are huge by themselves but they’re only one of the issues that can come to a head at this time of year. Throw some parties, money stress, and just getting out of your usual schedule, and you have a recipe for potential emotional disaster.
However, you don’t have to give in to your old patterns and negative thoughts. It’s a good idea to strategize beforehand about what your unique triggers are so you’ll be better equipped to handle them in the moment.
Types Of Holiday Triggers
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Triggers Type #1:
While we might absolutely love and adore our family, oftentimes spending time with them is the superhighway to feeling like your huffy fifteen-year-old self. (Hello Shadow Self!)
Time and distance can make it seem like you’ve moved beyond all of that stuff. But put yourself in your old childhood home and BAM! There you are feeling neglected, unappreciated, nagged etc.
Family dynamics are especially tricky because we want the other people to do all the changing. But instead of getting bitter when that doesn’t happen, focus on how you can change your thoughts and reactions. For example, instead of taking the bait in an old argument or expecting to hear certain words and getting disappointed when they don’t come forth, what else can you focus on? How can you show up differently, or react in a new way?
Healing old family wounds is obviously a big task. But you can create big results in the moment simply by breaking patterns and engaging in a different way.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Triggers Type #2:
Surely, the gift-giving tradition was surely never meant to be a stressful experience. However, just think of the pressure of finding just the right gift or the mental chaos that can ensue in a busy shopping center! Those things can be huge stressors unto themselves. But most of us can admit that the biggest stress around gift-giving is financial.
The pressure to keep up and to have something great for almost everyone is a lot. So here’s a reminder: it’s okay to tell your kids that certain toys are too expensive. It’s also okay to limit how many things they get! It’s okay to give experiences instead of gifts (Actually, I love to do this!). It’s okay to make (or buy) cookies to give as hostess gifts. And it’s okay to not give gifts at all! Say no to the White Elephant at work or just tell certain people that you’d rather not give gifts this year.
Sticking to your budget and setting boundaries should not be embarrassing! A few slightly uncomfortable moments now (in your own mind) are actually preferable to paying off your credit card for the rest of the year.
Honestly, for me, the holidays are about being with people more than anything else. However, my love language is quality time. If yours is receiving gifts, then of course, this might be different and that’s okay too.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Triggers Type #3:
Ahhhh the holidays. So many invitations, but only one you! Between work occasions, family get-togethers, and parties galore, the festive mood of the season can quickly overwhelm your calendar–and deplete your energetic reserves.
This time is an especially stressful experience for introverts and empaths alike. We need our alone time to destress and relax. When every weekend fills to the brim with events, we can start to feel overwhelmed before we’ve even left the house.
It’s so important to take care of your own needs, even with all those tempting invitations. It’s okay to say no to certain events. It’s also okay to set your own curfew and bow out early. It’s also definitely okay to say no to the martinis that might tempt you into staying just a little bit longer!
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Triggers Type #4:
When you’re busy running through your hectic day-to-day life, it can be easy to push your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings off to the side. However, sometimes when we sit still for a minute and let the cobwebs clear, those issues finally find room to rise to the surface.
Cue you getting suddenly the holiday blues about the breakup you thought you were over, feeling angry about an argument from weeks ago, replaying old scenarios in your mind.
Relax: this isn’t a sign that you’re slowly losing your mind! Rather, it’s just your brain showing you some things that you haven’t yet fully healed and processed. And that’s okay because healing sometimes takes a lot longer than we’d like it to.
Emotions like grief are never linear. While we want them to run their course and then be done with them, they’re more like a tide that ebbs and flows more slowly over time. Remember that this is normal and don’t judge yourself for this. All the healing you’ve done so far isn’t for nothing! It’s all just part of the process.
The only way out of any emotion is to first let yourself fully acknowledge and feel it. Your “negative” emotions and triggers might seem like a nuisance but instead, try cultivating compassion for yourself and embracing them as they come up. What we resist, persists! So stop resisting and lean into it to let yourself fully heal.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Triggers Type #5:
Sometimes our stress during the holiday season has little to do with the holidays themselves. Perhaps this is your first year after a divorce or after someone important has passed on. Perhaps you just moved and can’t be with your family. Or perhaps you’ve been estranged from your family for years.
In these tough situations, ask what would feel the most supportive? It’s totally okay for you to bow out of almost everything if that’s what you feel. Make yourself the classic day of Chinese food and a movie (or whatever else is available). Or perhaps you’ll want to show up to the normal events, if you take the time to think out and prepare what to say if anyone asks you any sensitive questions. If you’re feeling isolated, make plans to FaceTime or Skype someone.
Remember, there are no perfect days, years, families, or people. Don’t alienate yourself even more by thinking everyone else is perfectly happy during the holidays except you! It’s okay to sit this one out, take extra me-time, or to do whatever else it is you feel called towards.
Tips For Coping With Holiday Stress
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #1:
Expect Some Stress & Overwhelm
Don’t expect your holiday time to be without stress! Sometimes we make things even worse by berating ourselves for not being 100% cheerful and bright. How you feel about your own stress and overwhelm is an important key to managing it. You’re not a superhero and no one expects you to be! So give yourself the gift of being human and expect that there will be some bumps in the road.
Next, create a plan for what to do when you’re overwhelmed or stressed. Can you go for a walk? Journal it out? Take a ten-minute You Break by just sitting on your bed to think and breathe? Whatever works for you is the right choice. (Also, this is about managing your stress. It might not completely go away and that’s okay.)
Guilt or shame is simply not an effective way to deal with stress so stop pressuring yourself to just “feel better”. It’s okay to feel off. Once you admit that and allow for it, then you can step into healing.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #2:
Manage Your Expectations
As always, our own expectations for how things “should” be can be some of our biggest hurdles to navigate. Imagine: not getting invited to your work bestie’s Xmas party, your husband getting you something other than the bracelet you’d showed him, your mother not telling you you look great in your new dress.
We simply cannot help but write a script ahead of time for how life “should” go. And then when life doesn’t match our script, it can throw us completely off our game. Cue the shame party!
Expectation hangovers feel terrible. But the most important key to managing them is understanding that your unmatched expectation does not mean anything has gone wrong. This is just your ego-mind having a little tantrum (which is exactly what it loves to do).
People are simply going to people–and do all kinds of things that we don’t expect or understand. Those things are not a reflection of you! Rather, they’re a reminder that everyone is experiencing their own stresses and possible holiday drama.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #3:
Keep Up Your Self-Care
As someone recently pointed out on Instagram, isn’t it funny how we’ve had to rebrand simply keeping yourself alive as self-care? That just goes to show how far down the To Do List the basics have fallen for some of us. (This is especially true for women, people-pleasers, etc.)
However, that just shows that self-care really does need a radical shift. Instead of feeling like we’re doing something indulgent, what if great self-care was just your new normal? What a radical idea huh? And what better time to start practicing this concept than during the busy holiday season.
Eating healthy food, getting enough rest, drinking enough water are simply the basics of life. What else do you need in order to take exquisite care of you? Make some notes and commit to that, starting today!
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #4:
Ditch The People Pleasing
Every time you put someone else first, you are putting yourself last. Of course, parenting and work duties are things we have to do. But often during the holidays, we find ourselves putting the expectations of our family, in-laws, or friends miles before our own.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make people happy. Except when making those people happy becomes a form of self-betrayal. Saying yes when you really mean no, accepting the invitation when you don’t really want to, agreeing to bake the cookies when you’re already overburdened: all of these can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and resentful–which is definitely not a banging holiday mood.
Quit expecting others to somehow psychically know what you’re already dealing with! Don’t be afraid to speak up, to say no, to set the boundary when appropriate. Yes, for us people-pleasers this is extremely difficult at first, but I promise that once you see how much control you have over your own well-being, it will become your new normal.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #5:
When you aim for perfection, you will be disappointed 100% of the time. Perfectionism is quite often the reason we can’t let ourselves really feel happy during the holidays. After all, I didn’t have time for the blow-out I wanted, I ran out of time to decorate the cookies, the new decorations I ordered didn’t arrive on time.
Sure, you might have spent a whole lotta time planning your event or day. But even with the best planning, there will always be something that goes slightly askew. (See the old Yiddish proverb: “We plan, God laughs.”)
How you chose to handle those bumps is everything: the literal difference between being able to enjoy your life–or not. So it’s your choice: spend the day secretly seething that your tree isn’t perfect or that your kid spilled red wine on the new sofa? Or to just lean into the moment and simply let yourself be happy, present, and joyful, despite the unfinished tree, spilled wine, etc.?
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #6:
Notice Your Buffering
The holidays are naturally a time of overindulgence. While there’s nothing wrong with making merry, often those merry behaviors can quickly become anything but. Cue: overdrinking, overeating, overspending, and basically being our Not Cute Self.
These are called buffering behaviors: the short-term feel-good actions that leave us feeling not great in the long term. We lean into them for the short dopamine hit and for the temporary distraction from what we’re really feeling. Ie. drinking too much when you’re with your family as a way of coping with a stressful family dynamic.
Holidays are a time when we’re supposed to feel happy. So sometimes when we don’t, we “bridge the gap” with an extra glass of three of chardonnay or an extra slice of pie.
That might give us a short-term fix but we’re quickly right back to feeling less-than-stellar. So rather than feeling those feelings, we’re then compelled to drink/ consume/ spend even more to keep feeling “okay”.
At best, this can lead to social embarrassment, a few extra pounds, credit card debt. At worst, the behaviors can compound, and lead into actual addiction territory.
If you find yourself buffering, first understand that there’s something bigger that you’re hiding from. Don’t berate yourself for doing what you’ve done but do your best to prevent yourself from doing more of it. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to sit with the “bad” feelings! Honestly, learning how to sit still with our own darkness without hiding or buffering is a human superpower.
(And if you need someone to talk to, be sure to reach out and ask for help.)
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #7:
Don’t Try To Do It All
You don’t have to bake the cookies for your family events and your kid’s school. You don’t have to hang your own Christmas lights. You don’t have to hand-wrap every present, send 30 holiday cards, make every dish from scratch, or invite twelve people for dinner. Even if you’ve “always done it” that doesn’t have to be the case this year. People are adaptable and they’re not going to miss it as much as you think. In the end, the people who care about you would rather be with a genuinely Happy Version Of You rather than the you who’s bitter and stressed out and working in the kitchen all day long.
Spiritual Holiday Survival Guide | Tip #8:
Practice Curiosity & Compassion
Whether it’s with others or with ourselves, there’s one surefire way to stay out of judgment, resentment, and annoyance this holiday season: practicing curiosity. When we’re in judgment, we’ve already decided on a story in our own minds: “I shouldn’t have spent so much money. I’m so stupid.” “Aunt Mildred has never liked me. That’s why she asked me that question.”
While it’s very much what your ego-mind wants you to do, you don’t have to jump to the nearest logical conclusion. Instead, stay curious and ask questions. Instead of berating yourself, what made you spend beyond your budget? (ie. Wanting to show your kids that you love them!) Instead of assuming Aunt Mildred meant the worst, what else could she have meant?
As Esther Perel says, “You can be right or you can be happy”. When we stop trying to be right about our initial assumptions about the world, we open the door to miracles. I always try to keep that in mind when having a tug of war with my stubborn ego-mind and it definitely does help!
If you’re struggling with deep depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, seek out professional help. Despite even the best intentions, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, hopeless, irritable, and unable to face your daily routines. If these feelings are very intense or last for a long time, please reach out to your doctor or to a mental health professional.
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So tell me: what will you be doing this holiday season to keep yourself happy and healthy? Which one of these tips resonated the most?
Whatever you’re facing this holiday season, I’m here to remind you that you’ve got this! Turn the tables on what’s expected and be kind to yourself no matter what. Your holidays just have to mean something to you so drop the expectations and just let yourself enjoy them! Sending you love.
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