Holidays can activate powerful emotional charges, calling forth as much distress as joy. These “emotional charges” may be connected with past memories or with wishes you have in the present for yourself, and those you love. This article reveals practical strategies for creating a more fulfilling and less stressful holiday experience, no matter which holiday it happens to be: religious or cultural, or personal celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries of all kinds.
Romantic and family holidays are the ones that tend to activate the strongest emotional charges in most people:
* In North America, Thanksgiving, Passover and Christmas are some classic examples of family-focused holidays.
* Romantically-oriented holidays include New Years Eve, Valentines Day, and other holidays when you wish to have a partner by your side, such as an office holiday party.
There are seven key dimensions that can help you create a nourishing holiday experience for yourself and those with whom you will be spending that holiday. They are:
1. CELEBRATIONS & PLAYFULNESS: Even the most serious of holidays, with few exceptions, tend to have lighter sides to them. Consider whether you would benefit from emphasizing this aspect more. You don’t have to get rid of old traditions that continue to be nourishing. Just consider replacing some of the old rituals that don’t work well anymore with new possibilities that could be more light-hearted. Want some playful holiday celebration ideas? How about a family snowball fight or a drive in the country? What about going to a concert or movie? There is no end to creative ways to be playful or celebratory.
2. SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION: Many holidays have a more sacred or personally meaningful aspect to them. When this is the case find some wonderful ways to honor that. Consider whether to incorporate more interior time, group devotional activities, or service work into this holiday. Interior expression includes things like journaling, devotional reading, meditating or praying. Examples of group activities include attending services or other sacred rituals. And service work might include setting aside time to assist those less fortunate than you.
3. REMEMBERING: Some holidays seem to have an incredible power to cause recent losses or other memories to surface. Those holidays tend to be magnets for mourning or nostalgia. This can be particularly magnified when someone precious has recently died, is seriously ill, or is simply not able to be at this year’s holiday celebration. When any of these things are part of the picture, set aside some time to honor the missing or reminisce about precious times past, whether with others or by yourself. Making time to acknowledge these invisible holiday “attendees” can replace denial with tenderness, making the holiday celebration more precious rather than more draining.
4. COMPLETING & LOOKING FORWARD: Sometimes a holiday is a natural call to review your last year and envision how you want your upcoming year to be different. Whether you do this alone, with others, or both, make a point of building this into appropriate holidays as well. New Year is the time when the pull for doing this tends to be the strongest for most people. Make a point of revisiting the things you learned and are grateful for from the past year, the things that are incomplete for you from the past year, and the passions and goals you have for this coming year. Consider including a review of how you created this holiday this year, and your vision for how to upgrade this holiday even more next year. (Moving beyond long-standing traditions — even those that are non-serving — can take years. Celebrate the incremental progress each year and focus on a next best step for next year rather than trying to complete a holiday’s transformation in only one or two years.)
5. GIVING & SPENDING: Many holidays are times of giving, and doing this can feel deeply nourishing. At the same time, it’s important to not fall into the trap of over-giving. Over-giving includes spending more money on gifts than is wise for you, more energy cooking than your life balance allows, or too much time with people you’d rather not be with. Giving without regard to your own boundaries inevitably leads to resentment and exhaustion. An “Over-Giving Prevention Plan” can help: a commitment to pure giving out of love rather than contaminated giving out of guilt. Find your limits based on the life energy you have rather than relying on “shoulds” or expectations. Pay attention not only to the total amounts of time and money you reasonably have, and within that to balancing the amount of time or money you devote to each particular task, activity or person. Here’s the simplest measure of overgiving: if you notice yourself becoming resentful you’re probably over-giving. What can you give and spend, and with whom, without resentment? How much money can you spend on gifts (or how much time can you spend making gifts) and sending holiday cards, and for whom, without becoming resentful? Allow yourself to get honest with yourself and live in alignment with your boundaries and your integrity.
6. PERSONAL RE-CENTERING ACTIVITIES: Holidays can have the nasty habit of compromising our life balance, both as we prepare for them and even as we celebrate them. The danger of neglecting the self-care activities that keep you centered and energized always lurks unless you remain mindful. Being true to your personal boundaries can help you maintain your self-care routines. Doing this will help make any holiday more joyous. Make specific self-care commitments to yourself ahead of time. It’s okay to take “time-outs” from the family or the hustle and bustle. Going on regular walks (alone or with others you feel particularly nourished to be with), checking in with growth-oriented friends, going to support group meetings, journal writing and meditation, eating well, moving your body, and getting enough sleep, are all important parts of a wonderful self-care plan. Which self-care/re-centering activities work best for you?
7. PLANNING FOR GLITCHES: If you’re honest with yourself you know beforehand the hurts, fights or other distresses are likely to surface when your family gets together for holidays. Give yourself a break and plan ahead. Here’s how: list all the incidents you suspect could occur. Select new actions you’ll take for each one so that you take better care of yourself should that situation arise.
My clients taught me that these are the strategies that work best to maintain love and joy during any holiday. I found that they work for me too. May they work for you as well!