The thing that makes the holidays the most difficult is the widespread idea that they shouldn’t be. We’ve been seduced for years by pictures of smiling families passing the turkey and opening their flawlessly wrapped presents. Everyone is easy to get along with and everyone is perfectly happy.
Nothing could be further from the truth for most people. We are far more complicated creatures than that. All families have their areas of dysfunction which are less likely to politely stay out of sight when everybody is together in the same room.
Liz talked about how she suddenly felt herself becoming a teenager again the minute she walked in the door of her parents’ house. “Here I am, a successful person at my job, walking in and going right for the refrigerator and yelling about old unresolved arguments! I hardly recognize myself,” she said. When there are injustices that have not been made right, or memories of abuses and unkindness, these things may erupt without warning. “I find myself saying things I later regret,” Liz continued. “I always have the best intention to have a wonderful holiday but it never works out that way.” Lowering or “right-sizing” our expectations about the holidays is the first thing that can help.
It’s not only family tensions that make the holidays potentially so difficult. Nick talks about how lonely he feels this first season after his divorce: “I guess it’s the contrast between then and now, and how disappointed I am about the reality of my life alone. I never thought it’d be this way.” This increased isolation and loneliness can also be felt by remembering people who’ve died.
Stress around finances increases during the holidays, especially given the current economy. April is finding herself limited at what she can actually do. The best thing is for her to make a spending plan of all holiday expenses before hand and keep to it.
Many of us increase our alcohol intake during the holidays in an attempt to deal with the stress of difficult people and relationships. It’s not necessary to stop drinking if this is one of your pleasures, but it helps to be aware of how emotionally destabilized and uncentered too much can leave you. Know your limits or get help to cut down.
Pace yourself during the season, in all areas. Stop trying to be Superwoman. Plan time to be alone and give yourself a break. Delegate what tasks you can. Most of all, tell the truth about how you feel — if you don’t feel festive, that’s okay. Find at least one person you can talk frankly to who doesn’t have the expectation that you act like a perky cheerleader.
If you feel like Scrooge, find somebody safe and tell them about it. Then go back to the party and enjoy the time for what it is – a normal imperfect holiday season.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth