‘”It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” or so the song goes. Many times it truly is…the lights, the music, the store displays, the feeling in the air, the friends and wonderful family times.
But it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year, and that’s when we need to be careful to take care of ourselves so we don’t burn out or stress out.
In other words, while you’re taking care of others, take care of yourself first.
“Take the ‘shoulds’ out of the Holidays,” Dr. Elissa Stein at Jefferson Center for Mental Health reminds us. She advises us to not get so caught up in the holiday tilt-a-whirl that expectations get too high, we have no way of ever meeting them, and we end up disappointed and thinking, What’s wrong with me? “That doesn’t really capture the spirit of the holidays.”
“I think it can help to just think about how the holidays are meaningful to you. For some people, it’s just a time to relax, and that’s perfectly fine. We often feel we have to do so much, and we must remind ourselves it doesn’t have to be that way.”
She advises us to slow down a bit, take a breath and do a brief self-evaluation. “Ask,” she says, “What would I really like this time to be, for me, and for others? Focus first on that.”
Here are some of her tips to help us take care of ourselves to keep us from getting overwhelmed, and keep a “sense of sanity” about it all.
1. Bring your expectations down to reality. Simplify as much as you can. Decide what you really want.
2. Examine your list of “have-to’s” so you decide what’s realistic. Write the script yourself.
3. Spend some quality time with a few friends and make relationships your goal. Significant human connection can be deeply satisfying.
4. Determine how much “family” is healthy and connect in ways that feel good, and limit those that don’t. “Be realistic,” she adds.
5. If Family situations get a bit tense, sometimes to avoid conflict, “smile, and just walk into another room for a while.” You can even do a little rehearsal to think beforehand how you will handle those events if you expect them to be less than ideal.
6. If you want to give to others, you could help someone in need, or just write a simple note thanking someone for their friendship.
7. Strengthen your spirituality. It’s a good time to renew your foundation.
Dr. Stein reminds us that we have more control over how we approach the holidays than we sometimes remember, and when we exercise that, our chances of a fulfilling experience increase dramatically.