The holidays are supposed to be the ‘happiest time of the year,’ right? Yet so often holiday times bring stress and anxiety. Maybe the holidays means getting together with family members you don't get along with. Maybe this time of year means fielding questions about your marital status, future plans, or when you're planning on having a baby. The holidays might mean being alone and lonely. They might mean working long hours to cover Black Friday or post-holiday sales. Maybe it means the memory of someone who you've lost and your grief is feeling more intense than usual.
With everything we might be going through: how can we get through the holidays with our mental health intact?
1. Adjust your expectations: realistically, Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t going to look picture perfect like they do on TV or on Instagram. Families will get into arguments, three people will come by and salt the mashed potatoes without tasting them first, you won’t get to spend time with the person you wish you could. Set realistic expectations for yourself. After all, in the grand scheme of things, these are just days in the year.
2. Realize that the holidays are a social construct: the holidays were invented - by us. Thanksgiving isn’t about the pilgrims and Jesus was probably born in the summer. That doesn’t mean the holidays don’t hold meaning - it is wonderful to be thankful and to celebrate the birth of Christ. But at the end of the day, that is what the holidays are - just days in the year. If we can separate ourselves from thinking that the holidays HAVE to be a certain way, we might be able to enjoy the way they actually end up being.
3. Set healthy boundaries: if you know that you can’t happily spend a week with your family, visit for just a day. If you aren’t up to buying Christmas gifts for every aunt, uncle and cousin, suggest a gift exchange. Find the limits of what is healthy for you, express those limits and stick to them. Setting healthy boundaries will help you stay within the limits of what is emotionally healthy for you during this time.
4. Ask for support: if the holidays are a particularly hard time for you emotionally, find someone who you can talk to about it. Whether it is a friend, family member or counselor, you deserve someone who will listen and understand what you are going through. The holidays feel like they should be the most wonderful time of the year. The reality is that sometimes they don't feel wonderful. While it isn't fun to feel that way, it is normal and okay to not experience the holidays the way it seems like everyone else is.