Holidays—am I right? Sure, there’s potential for great joy, but there’s also pressure around budgets, gifts, travel, food, and family.
Common wisdom for dealing with holiday stress includes vague platitudes such as “planning ahead,” “being realistic,” and “meditating.” And of course, these are great when we can manage. On the other hand, some of us have bouts of grief, depression, and anxiety so heavy that it’s a worthy goal just to get out of bed and shower. Know that you always have permission to put yourself first and decline invitations. What’s more, reach out to a professional or trusted loved one when things get to be too much.
That said, if you’re up for trying new strategies to survive—and even enjoy—the holidays, read on.
1. Consider “Core Desired Feelings”
Instead of goals, Danielle LaPorte maps her Core Desired Feelings. LaPorte is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and part of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100. She notes that most of us have our goal-setting backward. We make lists of all the things we want to have and do—all the external stuff. Often, even when we achieve them all, we feel terrible! This may be because we hustle to get it done and neglect our own emotional needs in the process. What if, she asks, we got clear on how we want to feel and let our feelings inform how we plan our life? For example, what if rather than setting a goal of “not fighting” for the day or “losing weight” this month, we decide to feel peaceful, grounded, or badass? Plan your holidays with your core desired feelings in mind, and you may be surprised how positive behaviors and outcomes follow.
2. Practice Detached Observation
This is a tip I got from my own therapist. The scene: we go home to our families, and they immediately pull all our triggers. After all, they were the ones who put them there in the first place. What if we went home with the goal of observing our family bemusedly, as we would a family of strangers? What would we notice about our family members if we didn’t spontaneously react to them? We might gain new insight and even new empathy for them. In my case, I noticed how other family members were triggered by each other, too. I realized it was not all about me (go figure!). I was free to choose how to respond or choose not to respond at all. It was a surreal experience.
3. Nickname Your Fear
In the article, “Teach Kids to Nickname the Fears That Won’t Go Away,” Michelle Woo points out that children, as well as adults, benefit from learning to live with anxiety rather than trying to banish it. When you realize that fear has reared its head, you can acknowledge it with a casual regard, as when a mildly annoying friend shows up. Giving your anxiety a nickname, such as “Steve,” helps. Instead of thrashing around in panic, you can say, “Oh, hi Steve.” You might even listen to what Steve has to say. After all, when not going haywire, feelings like fear, anxiety, and sadness serve their own purpose.
4. Make the Holidays a Game
Jane McGonigal, the game designer noted for her Ted Talk, “Gaming can make a better world,” and her book, Super Better, points out ways in which we can turn our greatest challenges (emotional, physical, etc.) into games. Why games? Most of us demonstrate more resilience during games than we do during life events (for evidence, ask me how many times I can fail level 15 of Portal without concluding I’m a sorry excuse for a human being. Answer: infinite). One game idea: create a Bingo card of hurtful things you predict your family members will say and surreptitiously cross them out as they come up. If you make a Bingo, you win the game, and you survived the onslaught. If you don’t, you still win…at not having a Bingo’s worth of gripes.
5. When in Doubt, Turn to Baby Animals
Take regular breaks from the fray. Go get a coffee by yourself or with your ally. If you’re stuck inside, grab some earbuds and listen to your favorite music. Read a book. Or, to cite Jane McGonigal again, do an image search for baby animals. I dare you not to feel a little better.
What will you do to treat yourself during the holidays?
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