Holiday Expectations and Stress

The holidays can bring up a lot of emotion. The most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful time of the year. The actions we choose to cope with or diminish the stress are not always the healthiest. We over-commit, overspend, overeat, over-drink.

Holidays can seem more challenging when you have a family member with unique needs. We feel pressure for our loved ones to act or behave a certain way and if they don’t, we feel guilt or shame.

For years I tried to fit our family into the “typical holiday” box and it was exhausting, stressful, and miserable. I did use diversion tactics that never really worked and left me feeling worse. 

A few years ago I added the word NO to my holiday protocol:

  • No to going to places that were not going to be good for Emily.
  •  No to overspending on gifts.
  •  No to competing with family to buy the “best gifts” when we don’t have the disposable income to do that.
  • No to over drinking to avoid family tension or conflict.
  • No to eating foods that make me feel terrible just to make someone happy or it is expected.
  • No to apologizing when Emily became overwhelmed or anxious.
  • No to decorating my house. My home is small and the work it took to decorate and find a place to store the space the decorations took up was not enjoyable
  • No to buying gifts out of perceived obligation.

I began to say YES to:

  • Yes to buying a gift for friends and family when it is not a holiday. We call them “love gifts”.
  • Yes to staying home if that seemed best for our family.
  • Yes to connecting with friends and family.
  • Yes to making memories that last beyond the opening of gifts.
  • Yes to going away as a family on a road trip the week of Thanksgiving because it is something we enjoy.
  • Yes to lights on my house because I love it!
  • Yes to joy and fun.
  • Yes to feeling good in January when the bills come and I did not overspend. 

Here are 8 tips that can set you up for a successful holiday season:

  1. Set boundaries: Decide what events or family gatherings you will attend. Set a limit on your commitments.
  2. Avoid family conflict: You don’t have to engage. I use what I call the “Emily card”. If the conversation or tension gets high, I will excuse myself to take Emily for a walk or to the restroom. I also will volunteer to do the dishes or clean-up.
  3. Focus on what you can control: There are only two things you can control. The first is your thoughts. The second is your actions. You cannot control what anyone else says or does but you can decide how you react to it or what you make it mean.
  4. Say NO: We covered this already but it is a big one. Say no often. Throw it around like confetti. 
  5. Think of ways to create memories and create the feeling you want during the holidays. 
  6. Ask your family what matters the most to them during the holidays. If they could only pick one thing to have, what would that be? For me, it is the lights on the house. Justin wants to make his stuffing. Todd is happy when I put the felt Advent calendar up that his mom made when he was a child. Emily enjoys the sweets that accompany gatherings. 
  7. Don’t overspend: it is easy to do. We do not need to overextend ourselves by buying bobbleheads and tchotchkes for everyone we see during the holidays. I have learned that people buy what they want. When I discover the perfect gift for someone I will get it for them. 
  8. Maintain or add healthy habits. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Hydrate yourself. Make healthy food choices before and after your celebrations. When you are at family gatherings, indulge in the food or beverage that matters most. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to eat a bunch of things that are mediocre. Savor the food that is special or sparks joy.

Plan your holiday events so that you can reduce stress. Let go of perfection and go with the flow. The more you release the expectations of what you “think should happen” or “how we are supposed to show up”, the easier it is to go with the flow. Focus on the people and the memories.

Published by bshort1968

I am a self-described caregiver. I love to help and care for others. I have learned the value of caring for myself as well. Now I want to live my life helping others learn to care for others and take care of themselves as well.

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