The holidays are coming. The holidays are coming! Often we may find ourselves in as much disbelief when we hear this statement as our Chicken Little friend who was trying to convince everyone around him that the sky was falling. With every year, time seems to move faster, and these two major holidays slip in well before we feel ready.
Like me, you might still be lingering in the disbelief that summer is a distant memory. Maybe you didn’t have nearly enough checks on your summer fun list. Regardless of our preferences, both the calendar and the weather are screaming that the holidays are quickly approaching.
Some of us associate fondness and positive feelings around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some of us find it to be a tense, difficult and stressful time. However we view these two big holidays, we can do our best to make them happy through planning mentally, emotionally and practically.
Here are a few ideas that may help you experience a happy reality over the holidays:
- Anticipate the usual happenings. For some of us, the busyness around the holidays represents the greatest stress. What do your holidays usually look like? You may have recently reminisced about the good and bad from last year. Do usually find yourself rushing from place to place? If so, consider which steps you might take so you do not feed the frantic and frenzied happenings this year. Are there certain people whose negative or dramatic behaviors are as predictable as our seasonal weight gain? Think about the areas over which you have control or influence to change. Start thinking now about how you might reduce time spent on the most stressful activities or with the most difficult people. We don’t need to experience stress before we decide to make changes to our holiday traditions. Sometimes we can make a few adjustments that keep these memorable family meeting times fresh and fun.
- Adjust your expectations dial. Although we may already know what to expect when engaging in the usual events or seeing the same people, anticipating and visualizing both satisfying and unsatisfying interactions can help us cope when reality strikes. The closer we align our expectations with reality, the less disappointed we will feel. Paradoxically, to ensure your family an enjoyable Christmas, you might even consider spending most of your holiday time with only your immediate family. In some extended families, this bold move could challenge longstanding traditions and ruffle some extended family feathers. So…
- Prepare to employ your five mobile stress-busters. Each of us should carry five stress-relieving practices in our back pocket. Taking deep breaths, praying, going for a walk, listening to music, talking to a friend, and taking a bath or shower top the list for some people. Which activities can help you reset your mood and help you push through strenuous situations? Try to arrive at five relaxation practices that you can engage in just about anywhere.
- Decide what will make the holidays an overall positive experience for you and your family. Just like holidays can come up fast, we can also find ourselves blowing through the busyness of the holidays, only to wallow in the discouraging thoughts that we could’ve done this or should’ve done that. To reduce regret and disappointment, we may need to cut back and simplify our usual holiday plans. With our children, we can engage in creative conversations and projects to help them understand these holidays and why we celebrate them. In a new way, we can talk about the disappearing practice of feeling grateful. Whoever you choose to spend the holidays with this year, plan your “for sure” list now. When the holidays have passed, what do you want to be able to say? You might find great relief in declaring, “We didn’t go into debt with gifts this year,” or “There were no big blowups in our family gathering this year.” If what you want to be certain about in January was that family time was restful and enjoyable, consider now what you can do to help make that happen.
Finally, we are often reminded to focus on the reasons why we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Directing our attention to giving to others, feeling grateful, recalling and celebrating the birth of Jesus, and spending quality time with family can help us share in the wonder and beauty of this season.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year!
Alex A. Avila, MA, LPC, CAC, NCC, CBCP, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and meets with couples, teens and adults. He recently published “40 Forms of Intimacy: Integrating Daily Connection Into Your Couple Relationship” (www.40formsofintimacy.com) and founded the Relationship Institute of the Rockies (www.relationshipinstitute.org) to offer classes, workshops and retreats to help people thrive in their most important relationships.