Besides having a lot of extra social opportunities and a much bigger “To-Do” list during the holidays, many find strong emotions surfacing during the holidays. There can be quite a difference between our idea and the reality of how we are treated by friends and relatives. Some of us may personalize it when traditions shift, due to preference for family member to visit in-laws or include step-children on alternate holidays. Sometimes when finances tighten, gift traditions may be altered. Perhaps a grab-bag can be arranged where a family picks the name of one child or family member to buy a gift for rather than buy for everyone. Sometimes younger kids get gifts from all relatives up to a certain age, or a dollar limit per gift can be established. Some families are shifting away from the materialism that can overshadow the holidays by including charitable or other volunteer activities.
Regardless of these shifts, holidays often trigger “anniversary reactions,” for missing family or friends who have moved, no longer are in contact, or have become ill or passed away. Sometimes clients report trauma or anxiety triggers due to political differences families have argued about during this contentious election season or what if you still visit your family during the holidays but have recovered memories about their abuse or neglect?
Here are some practical tips for the variety of strong emotions our friends and families can trigger during the holidays:
- Keep it Simple- Rather than feeling pressured to say “Yes” or “No” when invited to an event, you can train yourself to say, “Let us check our schedule and get back to you soon.” Set a goal for the percentage of your free time that will be devoted to relaxing or enjoyable holiday activities instead of just pressure to spend more, and be doing too much at once.
- Seek Balance- Is there anything you would be best off just letting go from your calendar, your budget or on an emotional level? Even if a person has not asked for our forgiveness for a wrong we may decide to release our bitterness or anger over the situation. Sometimes we may need to set clearer boundaries. For example, if visits are expected to be stressful perhaps we’d like to set a time limit or tell the host ahead of time something such as, “Sorry we’ve been invited to two eventsin one day. We’ll be joining you for X portion of the event.”
- Have Courage to Seek Change- Many of us are creatures of habit, but if we dread certain holiday traditions, it may be time to try something new. Could we afford to take the vacation we usually take in Spring or Summer during the winter break to have a chance to refresh ourselves instead of being in town to face a variety of confusing, draining experiences?
- It’s a process- If we have lost a key family or friend we celebrated our winter holiday with ,give yourself time to feel all the stages of grief. If a key person is estranged we may choose to journal, writing a letter that may or may not actually be mailed to work out what is unhealed in that relationship. Working with a therapist can be useful in this process. Some of stages of grief and coping may repeat, but one model to seek healing through is the Kubler-Ross “DABDA” model:
- Denial- Try to use active rather than passive defenses if you believe this stage has lingered. B. Anger- Find a productive way to express frustration. If we suppress anger we may act out or feel more anxious or depressed. Have others told us we are acting passive-aggressive? If so, how can we shift to more active coping skills? C. Bargaining- If we or a loved one has gotten a serious diagnosis perhaps we ask our spiritual source for a bargain to improve this. Or perhaps you need to ask friends or family for a bargain, “I know we usually do X,Y,Z during the holidays but our budget allows for a range of A to B instead. What do you think of those options? D-Depression- Some of us literally need more enlightenment during the holidays as it can be a “Dark Night of the Soul.” For those with Seasonal Depression taking 1000IU of Vitamin D during the winter months and having your primary care physician test this in an annual physical is recommended. Krista Sherinian, LCSW at Dunham Counseling also rents out a therapeutic light that simulates sunlight to use for 20 to 40 minutes a day to reduce winter depression or regulate sleep cycle. A-Acceptance- It is said, in acceptance there is peace. Say a close relative has expressed inflammatory beliefs that upset you during the election season. Rather than trying to change their mind, or defend the “rightness” of your positions ask yourself this, “Would I rather be ‘right’ or be at peace?” Then agree to disagree and focus on other topics or if you believe it is best apologize and release what negativity was brought out.
By Krista Sherinian, LCSW