Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays are marketed as a happy time of year, and they may be for some people, but for many the holidays are a very difficult time.   The holidays are full of nostalgia and visions of a perfect family which can bring up feelings of loss and sadness for those who did not have idyllic childhoods and happy homes.  The version of a holiday that we see in the media juxtaposed with our actual memories of holidays past or visions of holidays current can be troubling.  The stressors of visiting our families, financial constraints, travel, and other complications of the holidays can leave any person in need of extra support. Some ideas on taking care of yourself this holiday season.  These may not apply to everyone, but they are common complaints about the holidays:

1. You are dreading visiting your family - This may sound simple, but make your stay as short as possible, a day trip if at all possible.  Many people try to squeeze in so much family time around the holiday that it becomes overwhelming.  If your family makes you feel bad, take them in small doses.

2. You are strapped for cash for presents - Tell your friends and family that you are not exchanging presents this year, that you don't need anything from them.  For those who are special to you, write them a nice card expressing your appreciation for them.

3. You are lonely - We are told that the holidays are a time of happiness, togetherness, and cheer, but the reality is that many people lack support around the holidays.  If you are lonely, reach out to others who are lonely.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or a blanket drive, join a local support group, have a "friend holiday" with a buddy or two, and look around for other types of support.  Remember, you are not the only one who is lonely around the holidays so seek out others who understand.

4. You're feeling depressed - Be kind to yourself.  You're not the only person who feels this way at this time of year.  The weather, the overwhelming holiday cheer, and feelings from the past can creep up on anyone and turn happy into blah.  Know that it is normal, you are allowed to be sad, and it will end on January 2nd.

10 Therapy Hacks

1. Say no. No is a good word, not a bad one. When you say 'no' you are simply acknowledging that you have met a limit or capacity. We have a capacity for giving, being awake, running, eating, and everything else that we do. When you say 'yes' and mean 'no', you may feel resentful, angry, numb, overworked, and used, among other painful emotions.

2. Know the difference between acting out and being assertive. Try to avoid acting out, but if you do, reflect on the choice and note the consequences. Be assertive.

3. Connect with other people. We were built to connect and wired to be with one another. Like a car without an engine, we do not work if we do not share ourselves with others.

4. Chose wisely when sharing yourself with others. Trust yourself when you are with another person. The voice that says, “dislike” or “run” is there for a reason. If you find yourself running from everyone, return to number 3.

5. You will never be one thing, so accept that you will be many things. Behaviors do not define us but are temporary. It is incredibly difficult to be a feeling, intelligent, complex human being because contradictory feelings co-exist with one another within all of us (e.g. love & anger, resentment & longing, desire & fear, fatigue & happiness). You are not how you feel or what you are doing. You are you. As complicated as it is to be you, it is far more rewarding than being chained to any label that has been thrust upon you. And since you are you, you do not have to think, feel, or act like anyone else.

6. Be kind to yourself and then be kind to others when you can. Say nice things to yourself in your head. Take it easy on yourself. Only good things come from this. You will not get more done if you are mean to yourself or others. It does not make you a “bad” or “selfish” person to show kindness to yourself. Ultimately, you cannot offer more kindness to others than you extend to yourself so you must practice on yourself first.

7. Be honest with yourself. Honesty is not universally the “best policy” with others, but it is necessary to know your own truth to live a conscious, connected life. Never use honesty to hurt or belittle someone. Rather than hiding behind honesty and moral platitudes, use honesty first and foremost as a gauge for yourself. How do you honestly feel, even if it is confusing? What defense mechanisms may be in place that keep you from accessing honest feelings or truths about yourself?

8. Accept that anger is a normal, acceptable and useful emotion. Anger gets a bad reputation because we associate it with scary, violent, or unhealthy expressions of anger. Expressing healthy anger should not frighten or intimidate. It may feel uncomfortable to talk about feeling angry, but it might set you free from anger.

Example of expressing anger in a healthy way: "I felt angry when you said I was slow because I am self-conscious about my speed. It makes me feel like you don't know me (or: misunderstood, unimportant, invisible) when you say things that I'm sensitive about in such an insensitive way." You may tack on, "it makes it hard for me to trust our friendship when you are insensitive toward my feelings." And if it is true, "I'm telling you this because I want us to be friends and I want to be able to trust each other. Next time this comes up, can you treat me with sensitivity by being supportive?"

9. All feelings and thoughts are acceptable. It is only ACTION that can hurt you and/or other people. Actions like yelling at someone or punching someone in the face hurt others and you. The hurt is fairly obvious to the recipient of acting out in anger, but the angry person can face a range of consequences as well. The person who acts out in anger may feel deep shame after yelling at someone and have no relief from anger, he or she might break a hand, or there may be legal consequences for physically harming someone. In this scenario, we have a perfect example of how acting out can end up harming the person who was initially hurt and angry instead of the intended target or aggressor.

10. What to do with the feelings and thoughts if not act them out? Process them with someone you trust. I'll continue to use anger as an example but any feeling can be inserted in it's place. Be clear that you have no intention of harming anyone but your feelings of anger and thoughts of punching someone in the face are bothersome. What caused the anger? What feelings did you experience as a result of the incident(s) that made you angry? Going forward, how can you talk about your feelings that lead to anger instead of bottling them up? Expressing these feelings allows you to place them where they belong and prevents them from hurting you. The feelings of hurt and anger can become powerful motivators to assertively set boundaries when faced with the choice of acting out or speaking up in the future. Connecting the dots between how our interactions and behaviors influence our relationships is a crucial part of growth and connection.

Final words: do all of these steps imperfectly and seek help along the way. Practice is the only way we learn to change habits and form better relationships. You will not get it right every time, but you can apologize when you have regrets and behave differently and consciously next time.