- Take time to reflect on what is essential to you this holiday season before jumping headfirst into the stress of the next few weeks.
- Be sure to speak openly about expectations with your family and friends, make compromises and ask for help.
- Remember the bigger picture of the season of generosity and inclusion, and plan to help those in need over the holidays.
It’s that time of year again. Many of us were just recently with family for Thanksgiving, so maybe you’re already buoyed by the joys of being with your parents, siblings, and children, or maybe you’re fried at the emotional exhaustion, anticipation, and expectations of it all. Or both.
How should we best approach the busy holiday season to keep us sane and our relationships intact while still radiating well-being, holiday cheer, and joys of the season?
Well, before you do anything else, you need to slow down, reflect back and plan forward. It behooves us to take some time to stop and remind ourselves what our plans, goals, and expectations are for the holidays, regardless of which we celebrate.
1. Think about what you most want.
This applies to seeing family and friends, meaningful or spiritual moments or activities, parties you want to go to, or gifts you want to give or receive. Don’t feel shallow if those last items are high on your list – they may have been highly valued in your childhood years around the holidays; maybe your "love language" leans toward "receiving gifts"; maybe you just love a good party, a glass of bubbly and a brand-new warm sweater! Be as honest with yourself as you can – it’s the key to staving off disappointment.
Most likely, not everything on your list is possible, so it’s useful to identify what’s most important for you and your immediate family. Is it more time with family? Giving to others? Is there someone you’ve been missing? Are you alone and need to reach out? Is your house crowded, and you need some time to read a book? Is there a big project at work that you must focus on, despite the holidays?
Ask yourself what the highlight of the season is for you. Making a new dish for a meal? Being someone’s Secret Santa? Decorating a tree and singing carols? Making latkes and planning gifts? Going for a walk with family? There are no rights or wrongs, just think about what’s meaningful to you and be sure to write it down.
3. Don’t stint on thinking about others.
Whatever our personal goals, we all feel better if we can turn the holidays into a period of generosity and connection. Plan to do something for those you think may be having a hard time over the holidays – a recently bereaved friend, refugees far from home, or someone less fortunate than you. Practice that complicated juggling act of being both immensely grateful and enjoying what you have and also realizing your privilege and bringing some relief or meaningful connection to others. Plan for the end of the year by giving, volunteering, doing clothes drives, or reaching out to someone you know is alone. The rewards for this are both to the giver and those given to.
4. Spend a moment to think about obstacles that may be in the way of your best plans.
Are you doing too much? Have you reached out to the people you want to see? Are you hoping for a lovely family lunch when there’s an unresolved disagreement that should really be addressed? Identify any obvious stumbling blocks and plan for them. Ask yourself, should you be adjusting your expectations or your actions?
5. It is key to share your thoughts and plans with your partner, friends, family, or whoever will be part of achieving your goals and expectations.
And, crucially, ask them theirs. I can’t tell you how often we build castles in the sky only to fail to include those most relevant to their success. Do your hopes conflict? Are your plans compatible but need a little tweaking? Try to do this ahead of time, so you’re not in the throes of a big family get-together or have already bought plane tickets by the time you realize you’re out of sync.
6. Be deliberate about sharing the tasks of the holidays.
If you’re the prime organizer, you may tend to take on all the planning and execution and then wonder why you’re so frazzled. Share the load and make the planning part of the fun, or, if it’s a real chore, make it part of the connection – let your helper know how much you appreciate it. For our holiday lunch, my son, who claims he’s not a cook but likes the sausage stuffing most of all, makes that every year; my daughter, who loves to bake, makes a dessert; guests take on the buying of crackers and bringing of a course. Everyone does something.
7. When the temperatures rise, try to get some perspective.
Imagine yourself up on a balcony and view what’s going on from there. It’ll often give you a very different picture from the one you have "in the trenches." Then pick from among these old chestnuts and adages for the one that’s most useful as your mantra for that moment: Keep a perspective; Enjoy the moment; Don’t sweat the small stuff; Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good; It’s all about being together. For myself, I will use them all at some point and, in fact, have some of them written out on cards and pinned to my wall for regular reminders.
And, finally, try to remember that for us all to have some magic in the holidays, there’ll be lots of compromises. You’ll be doing some things for yourself and some things for others, some things you like and others not so much. But if we keep our eye on the big picture, we really care about: being with family and friends, kindness to others, and participating in a season that, whatever your spiritual beliefs or none, is always best focused on love, kindness, and inclusion.
Chapman, Gary (1992). The Five Love Languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.