Six Helpful Reminders

The 2020 holiday season is providing a “wealth of opportunity” (ha!)  for most of us to manage our experiences, circumstances and emotions we would much rather not have to deal with at all.  Someone wise once gave me this advise “Do your best every day…. every day your best just looks different.”  Phew!  Those were welcomed words for me and I share them with you now.  Some days your best could be creating fun activities and outings for your family holiday, getting all the laundry done and giving a stellar presentation at work, and other days your best is fighting back tears of resentment (at everyone!  anyone?!) while you lay in bed watching your favorite movie for the twentieth time and eating Cheetos.

I hear from a lot of folks in my practice (and can relate myself!) about how stressful it can be to think about the 2020 holiday season.  Below are six helpful reminders to support us all in finding our way toward a more enjoyable and less stressful/anxious holiday

1.  IT’S OK IF YOU’RE NOT OK.  Normalizing natural and appropriate emotional responses to hard situations is a must!  “It’s the holidays, I have to been in a good mood” or “Everyone is stressed out, if I am too, we may all fall apart” or “If I don’t keep it together for my kids, their holidays will be ruined!”  All of these well-worn judgments and misguided and false expectations of you are not only untrue but also against to your actual goal – to have a good holiday.  If you can allow your emotions to be purely what they are – sad, anxious, depressed, pissed, stressed…. without the “story” attached that connects the misguided message of SHAME – that somehow, it’s up to you to hold the emotional bandwidth for everyone around you – OR ELSE.

Emotional wellness hack:  If you allow your emotions to be what they are and just what they are, without attaching a story about what will happen because you are feeling them, then they can move along almost as quickly as they washed over you. 

If you feel anxious, it can simply be that you are afraid of what the holidays will look like in the midst of a global pandemic.  If you are sad, it can simply be that you are going to miss your sister, brother and their families who usually visit for an entire week in December.  If you feel angry, it can simply mean that you are angry that this pandemic is dragging on as long as it has.  PERIOD.  For folks who deal with anxiety, it can be tempting to partake in some future “story” about their fear.  This could be something like, “and I won’t be able to….” or “and what if……” or “I’m afraid that….” And on as if our emotions can tell the future.  NOPE.  They can’t.  Stay in the moment you are in, feel your emotions, and do your best to release the story.

 2.  CONNECT!  You are reading this article, so you have already started tackling this one.  Connection is the counterpoint of isolation, and isolation can be a breeding ground for false narratives and shaming storylines featuring US as the main character.  Too many people can relate to the judgements of misguided images of what “a good friend/Parent” does, or the myth that “everyone else is having a better/easier time than I am”.  Those are doozies, and can keep you stuck in comparisons and lies about our capabilities, self-worth and identities.  Sometimes it can be helpful to simply listen to other peoples’ stories, observing we are not alone.  Other times taking a calculated risk to be vulnerable with trusted others and sharing your personal experience can bring relief and open the door to deeper connection and understanding………and less loneliness.

 3.  BE REALISTIC.  It can be challenging to ‘know what you know”.  When you can allow yourself to release unrealistic expectations or budgets from years past, you can then manage what truly IS.  Whether it’s looking at the reality of your finances this year, the short list of holiday activities available, whom you will be able to see/hug this holiday season or other hard truths, acknowledging them and teaming up with your family toward collective solutions this year can spark new traditions and possibly make this holiday season a bit more enjoyable.  Shoot, maybe you’ll finally finish that chess match with your daughter, the family Monopoly game that has drug on for two years, or watch that trilogy you’ve always wanted the time to see!

4.  ELIMINATE CONCRETE STRESSORS.  It can feel like so much is out of your control these days.  Sometimes stress can come from trying to maintain control over areas of life which are out of your hands like the presence of COVID19, job uncertainty, distance from family, school uncertainty, etc…  While all of this (and more) are true, this can be a great opportunity to focus on eliminating stressors you actually have more control over.  This could be stress around putting off having difficult conversation(s) with family members or friends, finances feeling out of your grasp and knowing a holiday budget could help, putting off talking to your kids and supporting them in adjusting their expectations this holiday season, confiding in your partner about how you are feeling this holiday, or others.  Eliminating concrete stressors can free up space and release pressure for you to find enjoyment in even more challenging times.

 5.  LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA.  Social media can be, as we all know, a helpful/connecting/effective tool.  Social media can also be, as we ALL know, a time sucker/self-esteem demolisher/social comparison rager/”the grass is greener” driver/rabbit hole creating MACHINE.  We’ve all been there; we log on to “check a message” or “just look at one thing”….and hour (or more!) later we look up bleary eyed, wishing we had “colored our hair/worked out more /had more money to buy nicer clothes/traveled the world more/were famous/dressed our kids cuter (and combed their hair as if they were in a boy band?!)….and wondering what just happened to the last hour (or more!) of our lives.  Once we come back to our senses, we feel the rage of what we may never actually admit to anyone else, which is that social media actually made us feel as if the images on the screen had more meaning than our own, and yet we couldn’t….stop….scrolling.  You can be deliberate and take good care of your heightened sensitivities this year; turn off notifications, set a timer, or create a restriction in your phone for social media to alert you when you’ve been on for your desired amount of time.  Once your time is over, finish your post, put your phone down, and get back to your life.

6.  STRETCH OUT THE “YUMMY” MOMENTS.  Look for them, the “yummy” moments in your day which can so easily be overlooked.  When you find yourself in a moment of awareness involving positive or peaceful, loving feelings – stretch it out.  It could be allowing the soft music to play in the car your entire drive instead of putting the news on, observing your teenager show a younger sibling kindness or support, watching your baby as he follows a floating feather across his sightline, as she tries wholeheartedly to grab the dog’s wagging tail nearby, or catching your adolescent son’s eye as he walks through the room, resulting in a smile, open arms and a much needed snuggle fest on the couch.  Observe and allow the quiet moments of stillness or the bustling family chaos (it’s like the weather in Texas; just wait 5 minutes and it can change!) to wrap you up like a warm blanket and remind you of the gifts within you and around you in those moments.  These are the good old days; they are happening before your very eyes.

These 6 tips can be effective in our lives anytime, especially now.  As we look forward to future days when life can look more like it did before COVID19, we are here now.  If we can observe, own and invest in the beautiful moments of our 2020 holiday season, we just might find moments of joy and peace, new family traditions and memories we can cherish.

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Melanie Flint

Melanie E. Flint, LCSW-S, CGP, EAP, is the Founder & Clinical Director of JEM Wellness & Counseling, PLLC.