Home for the holidays and we are warming up more than just food. All our feelings get warmed up as well. Sometimes they are feelings of joy but when they are feelings of pressure, sadness, discontent, they are even harder to deal with against that backdrop of Joy. They act as a marker for where we are in our lives. The holidays with all of the mixes of pressure to spend money when the majority of the country does not have any. Pressure to spend time with people we do not see very often or perhaps to spend time with ourselves. Pressure to perform. To have holidays that look, feel and experience the way that we see them represented on the Hallmark channel and in every Target ad. These elements can all come together to create a challenging time of year. So the question is how do you want, that’s right folks, want to spend your days.
Often our holidays are prescribed to us. We always go to our parent’s house they never come to our house. Or we always spend them with Aunt Sadie, she cooks, drives us all crazy and is generally really mean. Then if that is the case why in the world are you spending your time with someone you don’t even like? Often the answer is “because that is how we always spend our holidays.” Well maybe this needs to be the first time you spend your holidays differently.
There are our families that we are born into and then the families we choose. I suggest spending at least some time with the family you choose. Your friends, hand picked family members, spouses, your kids, etc.
When we are going home for the holidays, remember no matter how old you are, you are an adult. Often we walk through the front door of our parent’s house and we feel 12 again. Bring things with you that ground you. A friend, book, dog, your partner and your kids. And keep telling yourself I am an adult. It sounds silly but it’s really easy to forget. For example. I worked with a client who reported that every time he would sit down at the dinner table his father would start ranting about some subject that was stressful, from politic to wall street, whatever it was he would get loud, and it would get uncomfortable. I said, “Get up from the table.” “What do you mean?”he said. I said, “Get up from the table you don’t have to listen. You are not a prisoner. You are 29 yrs old.” “Oh.” he said, “I never thought of that.”
So how do you get up from the table? You can be direct “Dad please, you are getting really loud and I am uncomfortable”. Go to the bathroom. Say you feel sick. I’m not big on lying but you do feel sick in way so let’s call this the path of least resistance approach.
Along the same lines most of us although not screenplay writers could write a fairly accurate screenplay of our family holiday experience. So prepare ahead of time. If your uncle always gets drunk and loud then decide how you want to handle that ahead of time If your mother always comments on your son’s weight think about how you want to respond to her. If you are looking for a job but haven’t found one yet think about how you want to answer questions inquiring about the subject. You can say, “I don’t really want to talk about that but thank you for your concern.” You may have to say it a couple of times before you are heard. Stand your ground
Manage the time you do spend with people. Especially if they are stressful for you. If you are going away, stay in a hotel, spend fewer nights. Arrive later, leave earlier. While you are there do a little sight seeing, see friends, take little trips to the movies, go for walks etc. Break up your time. You do have some control over this time even if you have never exercised it before.
Pressure to spend. Our culture is so based on on bigger equals better. There is such a pressure to buy, buy, buy, in some ways even more now because our country needs the economic boost so much. Resist! I tell you. Resist! Purchase thoughtfully, slowly. Try to ease the pressure. If this is going to be a season where you cannot spend money because you do not have it then you need to honor that. You are not alone. Try informing people in your life now so you do not feel so much pressure. Maybe just buy for the kids. Or bake for everyone. Write a personal card to the people in your life to say the things that you don’t usually. You really can give love at the holidays.
I know some of you are saying really? Give just love at the holidays? Tell that to my 12 year old or my over-bearing, high maintenance mother-in-law. You tell them. Remember you are the one that sets the tone. Especially with your kids and perhaps even with your mother- in-law but definitely with your self. Bake with your children. Do Pollyanna gift giving. Do one gift bought and one gift made.
Start your own traditions. Ice skating, cookie baking, watching special movies, throw a party yourself.
Know at this time of year feelings really do come up. And they can feel really hard and magnified. Not to minimize but remember these, in the end , are just days. There isn’t anyone spying on you and saying you aren’t spending them correctly. On the other hand plenty of people will ask you how you will be spending them. It is perfectly acceptable to say you are not sure. It is really tough to feel sad at this time of year but it is also OK. Let yourself feel it. Ask for some help from friends, family or seek professional help if it feels unmanageable. Remember other people’s lives often look one way from the outside and completely different from the inside. Come back to your own life when you begin to compare and think about what you want to do. You are not alone in how you feel. And sometimes these feelings are just our entry into having the holidays that we do want.
A holiday is a vacation day in it’s most basic form. A vacation is defined as leisure time away from work devoted to rest and pleasure. Incorporate this into your holidays. This year make your holidays what you want them to be. Make them your own.
(c) Cori Grachek, 12/6/2010