Surviving the Holiday Season
Story by Susan Shier
Illustrated by Tatyana Starikova
Holidays have been pretty hard for me as an adult. I have battled and struggled with depression and anxiety throughout various times of my life, and this problem is guaranteed to rear its head during the holiday season. It’s been like this for the past 15 or so years; at least six major depressive episodes and countless “down” or what I call “low energy” days. When you are struggling with recovery from any type of depression or anxiety, the holidays can represent a time of stress and challenge. Family members can often trigger unresolved hurts, wounds and inner-child issues, so this is one of the most important times of the year to put self-care first and foremost.
If spending time with extended family triggers you, please know that this is very normal. Sometimes when we struggle with our families, we get down on ourselves about it, perhaps judging ourselves as impatient or rude. Just try to be easy and compassionate; remind yourself that you are different now, even if you feel like the “old you” while hanging out with your family. Family causes us to regress into old patterns and ways, and we are bound to act a little less enlightened around them.
If you are spending time with family during the upcoming holidays and experience challenges, be sure to honor yourself in as many of the following ways as possible:
Set Clear Boundaries. Boundary setting is extremely important to protect and preserve your peace of mind. Establishing healthy boundaries for yourself is not only OK, it is essential. It is OK to say no to things that you don’t want to do or don’t agree with.
Engage Your Current Support System. Reach out to friends and other loved ones for a good dose of support. This may even involve a therapist, life coach or social worker. I ramp up my talk therapy with my trusted resources during the holidays more than any other time of the year.
Manage Your Visit. Take control of your visit from the very beginning. Time with family has an expiration date—anything from an hour to a couple of days. Decide beforehand how long you will be staying, and clearly communicate your plans to the family you will be visiting. If you are traveling to be with family, it is worth the money to stay at a hotel and perhaps to even get your own car. Having your own space to retreat to and the independence to come and go as you like is priceless.
Break Free of Roles. Getting together with family can feel like picking up in the middle of a very old, very tired story in which everyone knows their parts but no one really likes playing them anymore. Decide to switch up the script. The easiest way to do this is to change your perspective: See and interact with the players as individuals instead of characters. In other words, rather than “Mom,” “Dad,” “black sheep” and “good kid,” think of them as Sally, Bob, Jane and Dave. So often, the problems in families stem from our not being acknowledged and respected for the individuals that we have become.
Practice Appreciation. It is all too easy to let ourselves focus on all the things that aren’t going right or the ways in which our relationships are not what we want them to be. This attention to the negative can only create more negativity and bad feelings. Remember, whatever we look for we will find, and the more we look for it, the more of it we will discover.
Keep Things Simple. The holidays can be merry, but often they’re filled with more activities than we can handle. Holiday events add things to our already busy to-do lists, threatening to overwhelm us. Simplify your life during the holiday season (and keep it going into the new year) by reducing instead of increasing the amount of stuff you do. You will be less stressed and happier for it.
And remember, the only person who needs to change for you to feel better is you. Thank goodness, because that’s the only person over whom you have any control.