Coping Through the Holidays

It seems that as soon as we’re finished gorging ourselves on Hallowe’en candy and have thrown out the rotting pumpkins, Christmas throws up all over everything.  Sparkling lights, jolly elves and reminders of how we should all be merry, bright and grateful for the season.

But what if the holiday season is anything but merry and bright?  Because let’s face it, the more accurate reality is that a heck of a lot of people struggle the most during the holidays.  This season of expected good cheer can stir up so many strong emotions compounded by guilt for not sharing in the joy of the season that so many others seem to experience.

If it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for you, here are 15 suggestions to help you cope through the holidays:

  1. Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.  People get really good at faking it or embellishing or hiding their true self.  Remember you are only seeing what they want you to see.  There are others struggling right along with you.
  2. Take a social media break (see point 1).  Scrolling through others’ happiness is hard.  Limit the time you spend on social media each day.  Stay away on days that are particularly hard (I promise, you won’t miss anything).  Block the people you find especially triggering.  You can “take a break” from someone on FB for 30 days — this was created for a reason!
  3. Limit your use of alcohol/drugs.  It might feel like it’s helping and in the short-term, it might have a feeling-numbing benefit, but it’s a temporary fix and your feelings will still be there the next day.  Also, remember that intoxication to get through events like work parties and family gatherings can result in big regrets and embarrassment.
  4. If you are overcoming an addiction or are in recovery, plan ahead.  Don’t get caught in the trap of “crossing that bridge when you get there”.  It will be harder to make good decisions when you are feeling triggered because your brain is in go-mode.  You know what will be difficult this holiday season.  Plan for the things that you know are coming which also gives you more energy to combat the things that sneak up on you.
  5. If there’s a party or event that just seems impossible to go to, don’t.  Seriously, don’t go.  You know you best and if you just. can’t. do. it., then don’t.  Take this year off, it’s okay.  Be kind to yourself and lay off the guilt.  Would you expect a loved one to do the same if they were suffering?  Remind yourself that it’s just for this year and quite likely, it won’t always feel this hard.
  6. If you have to go to that function/event, make modifications so you can tolerate it.  Plan to stay for less time and/or have an exit plan (this is when little white lies are perfectly acceptable).  Take someone with you for support or have them on stand by so you can call them.
  7. Just say no.  That’s right.  You are allowed to say no.  Limit the stress you are willing to take on.  Put your needs first this time without feeling guilty about making someone else feel bad.  You take care of your feelings and let them deal with theirs.
  8. Make time for self-care.  Get a massage.  Treat yourself to calorie-rific latte.  Take a walk in nature.  Get to the gym/yoga/zumba.  Nurture you.
  9. Make time to feel.  Give yourself permission to experience the sadness, loneliness, anger, regret, whatever.  When we allow ourselves to truly experience the weight of our pain, it actually takes away the intensity created by numbing/avoiding/running  away from those feelings.
  10. Practice self-compassion.  If you slip with your goals, don’t throw all your hard work out the window.  Start again tomorrow and get back on track.  No one gets it right all the time and neither will you.
  11. Reach out — you don’t have to hold onto those boot straps alone.  Allow yourself to be vulnerable and seek out support from loved ones, church, counsellor, go to a meeting — you know what you need.  Having a space to speak about your pain will allow you get out of your head.  The very act of telling the story to someone will provide some relief.
  12. If you are grieving, do something to recognize the loss.  Allow yourself to sit in the grief.  Remember that grief often comes in waves — sometimes so strong that we come crashing down.  Consider a special ornament or ritual to honour who/what you’ve lost.
  13. Write a new holiday story.  Nostalgia can make you go blind.  Sometimes we need to let go of the “shoulds” and roll with what is.  If you are ready, redefine this season in a way that brings meaning for you, even if it means letting go of deeply ingrained ideals.
  14. Remember that the way you feel right now is not how you will always feel.  Feelings change with time and often become less intense/more tolerable.  And the holiday season will end and January will come, I promise.

And because 14 seemed like a weird number to end on…

15. Watch YouTube videos of cats.  Because cats are awesome.