The holiday season is a stressful time for most people. It’s often financially draining. Physically draining when trying to attend all of the events. And for many people it can be a lonely time or a triggering time or a time when there is more sadness or anxiety than the rest of the year. When I lived in Toronto from 2015-2020, I spent 1 Christmas with just my partner at the time (and my dog), followed by 2 Christmases with just my dog, followed by 2 Christmases with a friend and his family, and then finally a Christmas with my parents. Last year I was with my brother and his wife and stepkids (and my SIL’s brother and his family). This year I get to spend it with my parents, other brother and his wife (and 2 dogs). I know what it’s like to have a lonely Christmas. I also know what it’s like to have a busy Christmas. I spent many years (including with chronic pain) working in retail and working 45+ hour weeks throughout December, doing a lot of standing and running around. This year I’ve gone to so many holiday events already that even though I feel a lot better physically (and emotionally) than I have in the past, I still notice a bit more pain than I had. How do we navigate all of this?
Emotions: Loneliness, Sadness, Anxiety & Stress First, I think that recognizing what you’re feeling is important. I’m a big believer in not trying to repress emotions (while also not getting swept away by them). Making some room for this experience is actually okay. You’re not alone in any of these feelings and remembering that is so important. Giving yourself a lot of compassion can help a lot. Also trying to connect with others as much as possible – even if its short durations, or online instead of in-person can help ease a lot of these feelings. If you can muster up a gratitude practice, I find it can be helpful. Of course, reach out to local helplines for support if you’re in crisis. Maybe try this self-compassion/Christmas gratitude practice I released last year.
Pain and Other Symptoms Noticing your triggers for pain – as I’m sure many of you are aware – is important. There’s no point pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. Taking breaks and pacing is extremely important, even if you’re “in charge” of buying presents or cooking meals (actually this is when it’s most important). Think about who you can share some of these responsibilities with and ask for help (making room for uncomfortable feelings that may come with it). Try not to schedule too much for yourself in one day and keep all the days with as equal amount of activity as possible. I know that the amount of events I’m attending is actually winding down over Christmas and all of the cooking is shared between myself, my parents, and my brother and SIL. My New Years’ plans are pretty chill – my partner and I are just going to a brewery (just us). Maybe try some relaxation practices throughout the holidays when you’re taking breaks. Something like yoga nidra.
All in all, just doing what is within your control to make this a good holiday and allowing what is not in your control to just be there, without it overtaking you. I know from experience that this is easier said than done. Just keep on making the most of it everyone!
Let’s face it, we all stress through the holidays. It’s rarely an “easy” time of year for anyone. Over the years I have spent many holidays working in retail; I have had to share time between families (back when I was married); I’ve had to spend some Christmases all alone. And then there’s all the things we normally have to do like cook, and clean, and buy gifts (sometimes with limited money) and almost always with limited spoons (for those of you who use Spoon Theory). How can we be expected to manage all of this? And many of you may not handle it well. So, here’s what I’ve learned.
The most important thing to do is PACING. For those of you unfamiliar with my blog post on Pacing earlier this month, it basically comes down to doing the same amount of activity every day (so no over-exerting) regardless of how you feel. What usually happens, especially at this time of year, is we have a good day so we go ham and do as much as possible on that day (cooking, cleaning, etc) and then we end up not being able to do anything for day(s) after. If we do just 1 activity on that “good” day and then also do just 1 activity the next day, regardless if we feel better, the same, or a little worse, we will more easily avoid a string of “bad” days.
The other most important thing is setting boundaries. Who says YOU have to host dinner? If you do host dinner, then maybe you don’t need to be the one to cook (can everyone bring a dish?) or clean by yourself (if you have a partner, can they help with the cleaning and prep). When shopping for presents, have you done it online? If you do have to go to the store, just use that as your 1 activity for the day (and wrapping the presents being an activity for another day). Tell your support system what you can do, and what you need help with. Stand up for yourself and don’t let them bully you.
If you don’t have a strong support system, which I know sometimes happens, then again, revert back to pacing, and say NO if you can’t do something (again, this could be hosting dinner, cleaning, etc), and see what other help you can get. Maybe there’s a neighbour or friend you can pay to help you cook or clean (that way it’s less expensive then hiring a professional). We need to use some flexible thinking and get outside the box.
The holidays are stressful, so we need to do what we can to manage our stress levels and take care of ourselves, while still living by our values (and hey, self-care may be one of your values). Have a Happy Holidays and keep making the most of it!
This is my little early Merry Christmas/general Happy Holidays post for 2020. This year has been hard for many people, and the holidays are probably stressful or sad for many people this year, especially without being able to see family as normal. I don’t want to repeat my podcast topic for the week (you can find that here), so I’m not going to talk about stress, I’m going to talk about connecting during the holidays. I will state that I am with my parents. As a single person I’ve joined another household and this is my first Christmas not working in retail as well so I actually have time off (though according to my friends in retail this year is not like a regular holiday season there anyway). We’re also very careful, literally take our temperatures every morning and don’t leave the house to go anywhere. Safety first.
Now, for this connections thing. Yes, it’s important to be safe and try to avoid cross-household gatherings. But we’ve all heard this in the news for weeks already. What can we do to have connections? How can we still be social or have a normal Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)? Here are some of my suggestions:
use Facetime/Zoom/Skype/whatever video chat service you like to connect with family on the holiday. This could mean eating dinner together while video chatting. Opening presents while video chatting. Playing games over video chat. Or all of the above. It can help make it feel a lot less lonely and a bit more normal.
use those video chat services to connect with your friends! Much of the same way listed above. This is how I’ve connected with most of my friends over the past 9 months anyway, so might as well continue!
Do some holiday baking and gift wrapping! Whatever you normally do (or maybe this year try it if you don’t normally) and leave it on the door steps of neighbours, friends, or family. Have a socially distanced conversation when you drop it off.
Spend time with your fur babies. They are a great way to feel less lonely and connect.
If you’re feeling desperate make sure you reach out to a hotline or textline for support. That’s what these lines are for. I signed up for a 2 hour shift on Christmas Day with Kids Help Phone. I have no idea if it will be busy or slow but I do know that this year more than ever, people need support. So use these programs if you need them.
Remember, you are loved. This year is not normal. It doesn’t have to be terrible. Try to remember the positive, and make as many connections as you can.
Happy Holidays. Make sure you make the most of it!