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 video was shot at Lake Ontario in Kingston during a cold, rainy day in the summer.
I hope you’ve been enjoying these meditations. This one is mostly up to you. I chime in about half way to remind you to let go of any thoughts, but otherwise you are probably getting pretty good at these. Mindfulness has been shown to be very beneficial for both physical and mental health. I hope you’re taking care of yourself this holiday season, and always.
For more on the benefits of mindfulness, check out my podcast episode with Dr. Alex Triendl.