Amidst all the festivity and frivolity this season, there’s still an element of stress, and for many of us, the pressures of the holiday can become overwhelming, taking over our feelings of joy.
Picture your happiest holiday, your most idyllic scene. Whether it’s Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Christmas or the New Year…close your eyes for a moment and envision what the “perfect holiday” would be for you.
Does it look like a serene scene right out of your favorite holiday movie? Or maybe it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting…?
We all have an idea of what the “ideal” holiday looks like. Just like a fairytale romance, this scene has been ingrained into our minds by thousands of similar Hollywood tropes, saying, “This is what the holidays should be. This is what a perfect holiday looks like.” In Hollywood, even the stressful holiday moments are part of the storyline—they always work out with a laugh and a happy ending.
You may be feeling a certain amount of stress or pressure to live up to these expectations, so when the holiday doesn’t turn out exactly as you planned or when it feels less meaningful than you’d hoped, it can feel defeating and disappointing…even depressing. Compound these expectations with the additional stressors of the season, like end-of-year work pressures, time management issues, dark days, cold weather, financial strain—it’s no wonder you might be feeling more “bah humbug” than “fa-la-la-la-la.”
According to the APA, at least 69% of people are stressed out over the holidays! Yet, what do we do? We repeat the process every year! We take on the same expectations and ideals. We set the bar higher and higher to find the perfect tree, cook the perfect dinner, hold the most festive party, or give the most amazing gift.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret—it’s not about reaching the singular pinnacle of the “perfect moment,” it’s about finding the joy in all of the moments throughout the season!
Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care
Don’t stretch yourself so thin this holiday season that you lose sight of the things that make you feel healthy and strong. Ensuring your basic needs are met is crucial to keeping yourself in the game and feeling great. Get plenty of sleep. Get exercise.
Sure, enjoy culinary delights and drink eggnog, but don’t approach it as a way to numb yourself or escape from your stress. Don’t zone out in front of the television or fixate on social media. When we use these soft addictions to “feel better” or cope, we’re simply prolonging the stress.
Instead, give yourself a gift by getting outdoors to revel in the beauty of the season. Commune with nature and appreciate the wonders of the world around us. A brisk walk or outdoor activity can do wonders for your mental well-being. Take your partner along or undertake a winter sport, like snowshoeing, skiing or another opportunity to connect with your partner, get some exercise, and move your body. Bask in the awe and joy of the winter world.
An important part of self-care is giving yourself forgiveness and understanding where you need to set appropriate boundaries. While you may feel you need to say yes to every invitation or opportunity that comes your way, it’s perfectly okay to say no, especially if obligations feel like a weight or a chore. Give yourself some flextime to enjoy the time you have with friends and family, rather than trying to pack in a full schedule.
Find Wonder in the Season
Ever wonder why Christmas, New Year’s or other holidays lose some of their luster when we get older? Those feelings of excitement, happiness and discovery get lost along the wayside, and things might seem empty, ho-hum, lonely or even obligatory, rather than fun.
As children, the holidays are full of mystery, new experiences and opportunities to grow. When we’re young, we process each experience as something new. We sense the potential and the possibilities. It can seem almost magical at times, as we wait to unwrap presents and revel in the excitement of the holidays. From a scientific point of view, our brains are growing and mapping each new experience. We’re forming our matrix and our neuropathways.
When we are older, however, we forget how to savor these moments and feel that same sense of mystery and wonder. Experiences aren’t as new or fresh or filled with the unknown. To get back to that state of bliss, we must learn how to grow and stretch ourselves further. We must open ourselves to new experiences and feel the awe of the season.
Our brains have neuroplasticity—the ability to grow and form new neuropathways and connections—throughout our entire life. It’s through this new stimuli we feel alive, awake and energized. Rather than focusing on the future or fixating on the past, we need to learn to be mindful in the moment and aware of the value of each experience.
This can be a challenge when we’re faced with the “same old” family situations, getting sucked into family drama and stress. We might go home to discover that we fall into patterns we’ve experienced since we were very young. We might feel disappointment and frustration when we return to these familiar routines.
Instead, try something new. Go into each experience with an openness and renewed enthusiasm. Rather than telling yourself it will be the same problems you’ve faced in the past, instead “check your baggage at the door” and go into the moment with a sense of new possibilities and self-awareness.
Truly Feeling Joy All Season Long
When we put too much pressure on ourselves or build up an ideal scene in our minds, we might be removing the joy, wonder, and excitement from the other moments surrounding it.
Instead, practice mindfulness this holiday season. Wrapping gifts with your daughter, decorating the tree with your spouse, or lighting holiday candles might be just as satisfying as carving the turkey and raising a glass. The weeks before Christmas can be just as festive and filled with happiness as the moment you unwrap gifts from under the tree. They don’t have to be jam-packed with Santa and literal bells and whistles either. The quiet moments and connections can have the most meaning.
In fact, sometimes the anxiety over that pinnacle “perfect” moment can be built up so much that we can barely enjoy the moment itself. Brides and grooms often describe their wedding day as going by really fast or “a blur,” and it’s even common to feel a little letdown after. It’s for the same reasons: when we become narrow and singular in our vision, working on an ideal day or even a single moment for months, we take the joy and satisfaction out of the journey and the learning process.
Planning, shopping, cooking, preparing—these rituals of the holiday season can bring satisfaction, too. Engaging in a great conversation at a party or really connecting with a loved one over the season can be the true highlight. You might not have a Tiny Tim “God bless us, everyone” moment at your dinner table…and that’s okay. You can still have a wonderful holiday season.
Redefining the “Perfect” Holiday
Instead of picturing the single perfect holiday moment, try to picture what your ideal month would look like. Are there family members and friends with who you really want to engage and connect with? Are the activities you’d like to do to celebrate the season?
When you have the opportunity to see friends, really listen, and engage with them. Express your appreciation for them and make time for those who elevate you and bring out your best. Make these friends your priority, especially during times when you can otherwise brush off social engagements because of too many other commitments. These are the moments that will renew and revive you.
If holiday lights really give you the sense of magic you long for, make it a priority to take a winter walk with your spouse and enjoy the lights around your neighborhood. If you love the windows downtown, keep a place in your shopping schedule to take a walk by all the shops and really be present in the moment—take it in. Treat yourself to a sensory delight like a peppermint latte or a gingerbread tea, and really focus on the memories and feelings it conjures. Don’t worry about snapping the “perfect selfie” or documenting the “perfect” moment. Simply enjoy it!
During these busy days we can forget about self-care and giving ourselves little “gifts” of mindfulness and renewal. Listen to music, get outdoors and get some exercise. Don’t zone out with too much alcohol and food to quell your anxiety—enjoy a treat, and move forward. Keep yourself mindful and in the moment, getting plenty of rest and keeping your schedule from becoming too jam-packed.
Encouraging Meaningful Connections & Engagement
The best part of the holiday season is the opportunity to connect and engage with friends, family and those around us in a meaningful, deliberate and celebratory way. Make the most of it!
Rather than tackling baggage and confronting every issue when you go home, approach even strenuous situations with honesty. If you’re worried about a confrontation with a sibling or dreading criticism from your mother, set up the situation for success. Tell them, “I want to spend today appreciating each other and focusing on the joy of the moment. We have some things to talk about at a later time, but let’s enjoy each other’s company for now.”
Before you head into a particularly stressful family situation, take the time to think of, and even write down, what you appreciate about your family member. When you spend time with them mentally refer back to your list, tell them what you’ve discovered and what they mean to you. Make the holidays about appreciation and connection.
Does this mean you have to let go of rude behavior or become a punching bag? No way! You can express your emotions and feelings (and should)! Just know that once a year around the brisket, you’re probably not going to resolve deep-seated concerns and personality conflicts.
If there’s something eating away at you that needs to be addressed, or if a family member gets out of line or does something upsetting, step in and be the voice of reason. Let them know you’d like to discuss things after the New Year (if you feel it needs to be addressed and can be resolved), and for now, you’d like to focus on appreciation and building connections.
When it’s all said and done, there may be family members that we just don’t get along or agree with…perhaps we can’t come together on our core beliefs or attitudes. During the holidays, however, we may end up in each other’s presence because we both care about the same people (other family members). Use this commonality as a platform for connection, and if worst comes to worst, you can both agree that no one wants to ruin Christmas for Grandma, and make the best of mutually appreciating and enjoying her.
Take time to give yourself a break when you need one. Go for a walk. Build your intimacy and bond with your partner by making them your ally. Turn a stressful moment into a challenge you can tackle and use to learn and grow from.
Throughout the holidays we’re given opportunities to stretch ourselves and really tap into our emotional intelligence. We can worry and stress out, or we can rise to the occasion and come through the holidays with a greater understanding of ourselves and those around us—building some great memories to boot!
This holiday season, commit to really engaging in those moments and learning opportunities. Stretch yourself emotionally and express appreciation for the people in your life. Listen, engage, and grow all season long. Look at this season as an opportunity to build your momentum and propel yourself into a successful New Year of transformation and connection!
For more on making the most of the season, please join us for a special Holiday Workshop this Thursday, December 8th—Home for the Holidays: Creating Meaningful Moments Throughout the Season. We’ll help you get the most out of your holidays!
Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University. Liked this post and want more? Sign up for updates – free!