I’m sure most of you can commiserate with me about the Holiday Struggle. I find it really difficult to take time for myself (and my partner… and my cats) without an immense overload of guilt and obligation.
Holidays have always been a super stressful and dreaded time of year for me. I’m an introvert and large gatherings of people (yes, even family) and fussy or spontaneous things really tire me out and add to my stress level. But the (inevitable) guilt trip of not being ALL OF THE THINGS TO ALL OF THE PEOPLE that transpired since I became an adult has associated holiday celebrations with even more anxiety and, sadly, some apathy. That often adds to my feeling largely misunderstood — that my needs are always pushed to the side. That that’s what you’re “supposed” to do, in the name of the Holy Spirit and all that other stuff that I forgot from Midnight Mass. And it’s all my fault, right?
I truly hated Christmas for a long time. Capital H, Hate. My past Christmases included a lot of guilt trips and name-calling (bullying, even) and driving all over Northeast Ohio, tirelessly expecting to stop at multiple locations in the matter of a few hours. And there’s usually some weather to deal with. If I visit one family member (or side) and not the other, there is so. much. snarking. If I consider going away for a holiday (to really get away from all the stress) or not going away at all, there is even harsher commentary. All second-hand, of course, because that’s the family way. There’s rarely any lead time to actually set plans so that we can make sure to see everyone, and a part of me feels guilty for not making a better effort and, the other, angry for being so rigid. It upsets me every year. EVERY YEAR. It’s something that I should have accepted by now, right? But I still bubble with rage when it’s not until the day before and someone confirms with “are you coming home for Christmas?”
There was a chance to “start over” and celebrate the holidays in my (our) own way a couple years ago. I just wanted to wake up in my own bed, in my own house, and celebrate something OURS. Small. US, covered in cat hair. It worked. That little step helped me get back into the spirit and deal with all the spontaneity of the day itself. My boyfriend senses the start of my struggle though (this is why he decorates when I’m away) and does really well in diffusing situations before I explode or when I just really want to drink some eggnog and eat a breakfast of marshmallows and wear some flannel pajamas (for 20 hours or longer). And this time of year, it is — HE IS — something for which I am SO grateful.
Highmark’s December e-newsletter listed some suggestions from Mental Health America on how to cope this holiday and not dread this time of year:
- Keep your expectations in check. Select only the events that are most important to you, and organize your time and pace yourself. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly.
- Be realistic about what you can do. The holidays aren’t just about one day, so don’t try to do too much at one time. Spread out events for more fun and less stress.
- Allow yourself to feel sad or lonely. Allow yourself to have these feelings, but don’t let those emotions overwhelm your day.
- Look to the future instead of the past. Don’t set yourself up for failure by comparing today to the “good old days.”
- Do something for someone else.
- Enjoy simpler, free activities. Take a drive to look at holiday decorations, go window shopping, listen to music or play in the snow.
- Spend time with caring and supportive people. This may mean you need to reach out and make new friends, or call someone you haven’t heard from in awhile.
- And don’t forget to save time for yourself. Take a day off, away from the to-do list. It will recharge your batteries. Remember, too, you are allowed to ask for help.