Finding ease this holiday season
Most cultures and religions have significant days or periods in the calendar year; in this part of the world, several converge in the late December/early January period. Winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s are some of them.
This is potentially challenging, given the possibility for competing demands, conflicting expectations, financial stresses, and social/personal circumstances. Fortunately, there are tools, reframes, and resources that can help us to navigate this season intact and whole rather than frazzled and depleted!
It’s human nature to project our own preferences and frustrations onto others, assuming that if we feel a certain way, others should as well. When we understand that we don’t all have the same perspective on the holiday season, we can proceed differently. That may mean deferring a debate and refocusing on more neutral topics, looking for ways to combine different traditions, or engaging our curiosity to understand a different perspective.
Our personal history colours the present. For example, if you enjoyed particular traditions with food, gift-giving, or seasonal activities, you may be quite attached to having the same thing now. If, on the other hand, your memories of the holiday season are less positive, you may prefer to ignore or avoid the whole season as much as possible!
It’s helpful to view the present with fresh eyes, reminding ourselves that everything is possible, including new traditions, healthier dynamics, more conscious interactions, and thoughtful boundaries.
There are many possible tools to have at the ready in your holiday toolbox. Using just one can make a difference in the quality of your moment.
Recognize what this season is like for you. In nature, the winter season is generally associated with quiet reflection, rest, and renewal. It can be a stretch for some of us to shift from this into social celebration mode.
Identify ways to support yourself in any situations or environments that are typically difficult. This can include deciding in advance how long you’ll stay somewhere, or how you’ll handle tricky relationships as effectively as possible.
Notice what types of groups, activities, and environments are more or less comfortable for you. Rather than considering this a strength or weakness, try seeing it as your style. Consider how to honour your style by leaning toward what you prefer and supporting yourself when you’re in more challenging situations.
Remember this happens for all of us: even the person who’s laughing and engaged may be struggling on the inside to keep going. And someone who’s home alone may really have preferred to socialize.
Many people experience competing demands during the holiday season. Other people may be more solitary, whether by choice or happenstance. Regardless, it’s helpful to identify what matters most and what matters least, even if you keep these lists to yourself.
One approach is to distinguish between what you believe you should do and what you actually want to do. Both of these are at play, and neglecting one can leave us off-kilter. For example, ignoring what you prefer to do can leave you resentful or unfulfilled; however, sometimes that’s a cost you may be willing to pay in order to maintain a family tradition. This can help you decide how you’ll spend your time, energy, and resources; it’s like installing a personal compass.
Even if you’re clear about how you prefer to approach the holiday season, you’re not alone. Everyone has their own preferences. This is where boundaries become so vital. The challenge is to see how your preferences can fit with someone else’s, ideally so that no one is disregarded, disrespected, or ignored.
This is tricky territory; however, the payoff comes from finding a way for everyone to “stay in” or to “opt out” gracefully. Your body will give you clues as to how well you’re accomplishing this process: if you’re tired or short-tempered, something may not be working well; if you’re relaxed, present, and energized, this is probably working for you.
Identify what helps you be centred, rested, and clear-headed. These are some things that may help:
· nature walks
· listening to music
· hot bath
· sipping fragrant tea
· yoga or tai chi
The holiday season is a time of potential. So many people and faiths focus on this season for the opportunity to honour, celebrate, reflect, commune, pray, play, and centre. Look for ways to keep yourself well, now and always.
Self-awareness and clear intention are key to navigating this season. Here are some ways you can help create space for yourself:
· Breathe consciously and often.
· Notice how you’re feeling, what you’re wanting and expecting.
· Be patient with yourself and make any goals reasonably achievable.
· Consider what may be going on for others and meet them there, rather than trying to force a different experience.
Many things can be different during the holiday season. As a result, our brains are called upon to “shift set,” which means rapidly adjusting strategies to cope with changing situations. This takes a lot of extra bandwidth and can be exhausting. Try to prioritize activities, simplify expectations, and be prepared to rest when it’s over!
· Know yourself.
· Recognize your social preferences.
· Cultivate healthy boundaries.
· Use stress busters.
This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of alive magazine.