November 4, 2017

When The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year Doesn’t Feel So Wonderful

Today, I tried to buy a wreath with some fall leaves for my door but I was too late. All of the stores were already packed with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations; snowflakes and tinsel. I'm never quite ready for the post Halloween shift into the winter holidays and the 80 degree Atlanta weather made it a little more jarring than usual.

There is no stopping the nonstop joyous music and happy commercials reminding us all that this is the time we should be grateful for every second we get to spend with all of the loved ones in our lives. It's that time of year when you're just supposed to forgive everyone and be one big happy family sitting around that wonderful dinner table. But for some, that dinner table is really just a time you're forced to sit across from your emotionally abusive family member for the entirety of a four-course Christmas dinner. Or maybe that dinner table is a terrible reminder that your loved one won't be there this year or ever again. Or maybe that table doesn't exist at all and the holidays are just a time to avoid as many people as possible because if one more person tells you about all of the wonderful friends and family they are hosting, you'll scream.

There are a million reasons the holidays can be tough. But don't you worry, because for every one of those reasons, a terrible (ok I kinda secretly love them) Lifetime movie will address it and by the end of the movie, everything will be better. Your mother will switch places with you and after spending a day in your shoes, will completely understand you. Your dead family member will return as a ghost and enter someone else's body so it's like they never left. Oh and all of your incredibly attractive friends will miraculously catch red-eye flights and show up on your doorstep Christmas morning to witness the person you've been pining for, propose to you.

For those of us who don't live in a Lifetime movie, here are some tips to survive the holidays.

1.  Acknowledge that it's okay to hate the holidays.
It's stressful. Know that you aren't necessarily going to feel happy the whole time, if at all. We set ourselves up for failure when we tell ourselves we "should" feel happy or "should" be enjoying something. When we don't feel those positive things, we feel like we've somehow messed up and that something is wrong with us. Practice self-compassion and tell yourself it's okay to not feel all warm and fuzzy. And to all of those people who will inevitably call you a grinch, just smile (or not) and say "Yup, that's me."

2. Take breaks, change the subject.
If you know you have a 5-hour dinner ahead of you that will consist of at least a 3-hour unsolicited discussion of your life decisions, get up and take a walk. Go to the bathroom and practice some deep breathing or watch videos of dogs. Tell Aunt Mildred that your dating habits/parenting choices/decision to join the circus are not up for discussion but you're happy to talk about the amazing pumpkin pie she made.

3. Be alone.
If you don't want to be around people because it's stressful and you don't want to hear another couple sing Baby, It's Cold Outside to each other, then don't. Stay home and watch your favorite show and cook your favorite meal. Don't force yourself to spend time with people you don't want to spend time with just because that Target commercial told you you should. The key is not to judge or shame yourself; it's okay to want to be alone sometimes.

4. Be Social.
I know, I just said to be alone. But, if there is someone you miss or you feel will understand why the holidays are tough for you, reach out. Sometimes it's scary to reach out to others because we don't want to be a bother or we feel like that person won't want to talk, but chances are, they probably feel the same way. So, reach out.

5. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
If you know the holidays are going to suck for you, start getting support now. Find a therapist, even if it's just for a few pre-holiday sessions. Practice responses to those annoying or painful questions you know you're going to get asked. Decide your limits. If you know that seeing that one person is going to cause you a lot of pain, then don't. This might mean practicing saying no to all the other people who will push you to try and see that person. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean you're required to confront things and make peace if you aren't ready.

Holidays are a part of our society. It might feel like there is nothing you can do to avoid the stress they bring, but the more you take care of yourself and advocate for yourself, the more this time of year will feel manageable.

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