The holidays can provide one of the most joyful and yet the most stressful times of the year. The season allows us an opportunity to reflect on the holidays' special meaning, whether related to personal relationships, family, or religion.
However, we often also cope with family quarrels, busy friends, negative media focus, job difficulties, relationship pain, financial stress—all of this can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and alone.
So much of this pressure is built on envisioning how it SHOULD BE. Those ideas come from seeing the perfect family in magazines, movies, commercials, social media, and more.
Reality never quite seems to measure up, and the difference causes disappointment, hurt, confusion, and frustration.
This year will be unlike others, as many of us won't see extended family and friends.
The holiday season is crucial to practice staying mindful, watching triggers, and not regressing into your childhood self. So, take time out to go for a walk or just breathe. Regular exercise and healthy eating can affect emotional well-being by relieving stress and raising spirits.
If you've experienced the death of someone close to you, the holidays are when memories can come flooding back. Make the holidays meaningful by acknowledging what your loved one meant to you. Don't try to suppress your feelings. The love you felt for the person is in those feelings.
Tip #1 - Manage Loneliness
Conversely, having no family during the holidays can cause significant stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
In this case, don't focus on what you think others are doing—go out and do something yourself.
- Escape the holiday environment (Walk in the woods, go to a place where the holidays are less prominent.)
Volunteer -mask up and go where you are most needed: nursing homes, churches, hospitals, food pantry, etc.
Visit a place of worship or any place that brings you meaning and comfort.
Video call a friend you haven't seen in a while.
Call an anonymous Hot-Line. Click here for a full listing of where to call.
Tip #2 - Manage Relationship Challenges
Because the holidays emphasize togetherness, relationship challenges are particularly difficult this time of year.
If you're in a shaky relationship, make a pact that you'll be gentle with one another through the holiday season. Give each other the gift of signing up for a couples workshop to deepen your love and connection.
If you've recently broken up, don't dwell on how much more fun you'd be having if you were still together. Don't troll Facebook and Instagram to compare your sad life with everyone else's highlight reels!
If you're tempted to call the Ex, try to remember why you broke up. Own your loneliness. Restarting things during the holidays rarely works and will make you feel worse later on.
Tip #3 - Manage Unrealistic Expectations
Aim for a comfortable holiday, not a wonderful one. Forget what you think it's supposed to look like based on media expectations and commercialism.
Start by entertaining the notion that most of life's disappointments wouldn't be nearly as devastating if we kept our expectations more in line with reality.
Think back to a time when something you were reluctant to do turned out to be not so terrible after all—that delicious moment when you thought to yourself: "That wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be."
This revelation can bring a huge sigh of relief and remind us to keep expectations in check. Anytime we assume the worst, we set ourselves up for misery, even if the reality isn't all that bad.
Similarly, it can help to be realistic about your chances for a holiday filled with nothing but serenity and happiness (hint: The odds are pretty low).
Have you already forgotten about last year's holiday dinner where everything wasn't what you'd hoped?
Did you vow this year would be different?
Of course, this wishful thinking assumes you won't be exhausted from cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping, holiday preparations, and hoping people in your life will have new personalities!
Your holidays may not be everything you'll want, especially this year with a pandemic. By choosing not to set your expectations unrealistically low or high and allowing events to unfold naturally, you can eliminate any pain and disappointment. Cultivating a little more humor and learning to laugh off those less than perfect moments can work wonders too!
Take Action: Start with a Deep Inventory of your Relationship with Aspects of the Holiday Season. Ask the Following Questions:
What do I like least about the holidays? Give yourself permission to let it go.
What do I like best about the holidays? Make time and energy to do those things.
Consider yourself before setting out to tackle others' agendas. (in person or on Zoom)
I also want to encourage you to choose deliberate self-care:
Take time out daily to focus on serenity.
Be good to your body: limit food, sweets, alcohol. Get exercise. Burn it off.
Meditate, pray, or employ relaxation techniques daily.
Look for the Good. Make a gratitude list or keep a journal of everything for which you are grateful.
Tip #4 -Focus on Gratitude - Your key to Unlocking Happiness and Inner Peace.
Gratitude is being aware of and appreciating good things that happen and taking the time to express thanks. Praise and thanksgiving are an elevated form of prayer. It benefits your outlook, your attitude toward others, your mood, your health, your relationships, and your work. A gratitude-filled approach to life has the potential to enhance your general well-being both this holiday season and all year long.
Create a Daily Gratitude List With a Piece of Paper Divided into Four Squares
Top Left Corner:
List ten things for which you are grateful.
These can be big or small things. (i.e., I'm grateful I had a hot shower, I'm grateful that my father is still alive, I'm grateful for my friends who love and support me in good times and bad, etc.)
Top Right Corner:
List three things that are challenging for you.
Record situations, people, or any other obstacle in your way. Now write down what you're learning from these challenges.
Bottom Left Corner:
List five people you're thankful for, including family, friends, colleagues, or strangers who've made your life a little easier or happier.
Bottom Right Corner:
List the best part of your day.
Focus on this blessing before going to sleep. This is a sure-fire way to get a better night's sleep and to wake up refreshed and eager to live another day.
The beauty of keeping a gratitude list or journal is that it trains your mind to start looking for what's positive throughout the day.
Tip #5 - Focus on Creating New Memories
Make this the year to lay the foundation for many holidays to come. So think about new ways to celebrate, new places to visit, new foods to prepare. By creating a fresh set of traditions, you will be giving yourself and your children something to look forward to this year.
By replacing old memories with the new, you can make the holidays special again.
Tip #6 -Commit to Living a Conscious Life
We can accept or reject our causes of stress. Our choices are reflections of who we are as people. We can control our experiences of the holidays, or they can control us!
Create a miracle for yourselves this holiday season - small or big!
If you are struggling with the holiday season, we are here to help with Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!
Connect. Transform. Thrive.
This blog was written by Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. I have 30 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families. I have two advanced certifications in working with couples: Imago Relationship Therapy and Encounter-centered Couples Therapy.
I work with spouses and parents to deepen communication, resolve conflict and rediscover the joy of being together. In addition to private sessions in my Los Angeles office, I am also passionate about leading workshops for Engaged Couples. With years of experience in premarital counseling, I am happy to offer an Imago based workshop entitled, Start Right, Stay Connected. I also facilitate a Weekend Couples Retreat, Over the Bridge, for couples wanting profound transformation. For couples who desire deep, intensive, quick resolution in a private setting, I also offer one and two-day Private Intensives.
I have also been active throughout my career in educating and training students and interns to become practicing therapists. I have taught and supervised at various universities and training sites around Los Angeles. Prior to coming to California, I served as a team therapist and supervisor at Houston Child Guidance Center working with children and troubled adolescents. I have given numerous workshops and presentations, taught graduate courses, and supervised many interns on their way to becoming licensed.
I am an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California IMAGO Institute. I am a Master Encounter-centered Couples Therapist. I am active in various spiritual settings and community endeavors. I love my profession and truly enjoy helping others to heal, grow, develop a heightened state of well-being and create more love and peace in their lives.
Several years ago, I co-founded The Conversation Group, an organization of like-minded licensed and pre-licensed therapists. We work with you in a very safe and collaborative way to create conversations that open up paths to clarity, insight, and healing which can motivate movement toward the life you desire. Join our Facebook page for daily meditations and healing quotations.