05 Dec

The holidays are often presented as times of joyful connection and grand family traditions resulting in high expectations. However, for some the holiday season is a time of high stress, anxiety, and loss. By definition, stress is a perceived mental or emotional strain exceeding adaptive capacities and threatening wellbeing from demanding circumstances. The insurmountable pressure for the best gifts, family unity, and memorable holiday parties as seen in movies can have lasting effects. The reality for many are dysfunctional family issues, divorce, loss, time constraints, financial debt, and families traveling long distances. Most people have blended or complex family structures consequently, traditions and expectations conflict. Family foundations are often built upon religious beliefs, cultural components, childhood memories and are highly emotional. Feelings of distress, loneliness, and anger can magnify when compared to the reality of holiday gatherings. Idealization may be fulling your stress instead make a positive shift towards a balanced holiday season. Listed below are some helpful ideas for making the most of the 2017 holiday season.

Communication and Relationship

  1. Reduce perfectionism– Do not expect family members to be different. Challenge giving into idealization promoted by commercialization. It only increases disappointment compared to reality.
  2. Communicating ahead of time. Compromising and finding ways to create a win-win. An example would be: maintaining an old tradition while developing a new family tradition.
  3. Acceptance and being present in the moment, having a sense of humor, finding ways to connect and honoring those family members who have passed away.
  4. Establish and maintain “healthy boundaries.” It is acceptable to say “NO” and practice self-compassion.
  5. Increase awareness by observing how the loss of a relationship or a loved one can trigger traumatic memories. Allow family members to use their loved one’s names and share stories/memories.
  6. It is valuable to evaluate past traditions and discuss with family/friends your commitments to reduce any assumptions and hurt feelings.


Time Management and Financial Resource

  1. Plan ahead of time, prioritize what needs to be done and try to involve others with the preparation for shared responsibility and opportunities to connect.
  2. Take the time you need to finish tasks that are important to you. Do not try to complete everything at once. You might end up feeling drained and unappreciated.
  1. Follow a pre-set budget for gifts and food. Consider alternative gift giving such as thoughtful homemade gifts or activities shared in making memories.
  2. Become creative in what could work for your family. Many large families draw numbers for a set monetary amount of a gift to reduce financial burdens.
  3. Is the celebration or tradition creating more stress, joy, or is it an obligation? Is it necessary to attend?


Self-Care and Alternative Holiday

  1. Find ways to increase self-care and de-stress. Schedule down time to relax. Try to incorporate restful moments throughout the day- enjoy music, guided imagery, mindful activities.
  2. Enjoy non-traditional holiday fun. Go for a long walk, go to the movies, spend time on projects that you enjoy.
  3. Take a vacation or find ways to give to others by volunteering. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
  4. If you are religious, take the time to reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays.
  5. Find ways to celebrate your own way and be okay with what works for you and your family.

When asked what really matters and has meaning during the holidays individuals have reported longing to connect, feeling belonging, love, and acceptance. The pressures of family commitment, financial constraints and doing so much in a short period of time create increases stress. The by-product is sleeping less, feeling overextended, frustrated, disappointed and burn out. Managing realistic expectations can increase authenticity, spontaneity, and create positive lasting holiday memories.

For information on counseling services, contact Nichole Oliver LPC, NCC, CCTP at nolivercounseling@gmail.com or call 314-566-6160.

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