To Do It Your Way
There is a myth that therapists’ practices fill up during the winter holidays with people who are stressed or depressed because these conditions are exacerbated during major holidays. Especially major gift giving ones. I actually only see this with people who are grieving and those who are stressed with money issues, which, of course, intensify with “mandatory” gifting. In general the therapy population dreads the holidays about the same as the rest of us.
So let’s concentrate on what we can all do to make holidays our very own, and not the commercially commanded performance it often becomes. Even if, like my mother was, you are one of those people who live for the holidays, there is still inherent stress. And if you are one of the grinches, then, yeah, stress can max out during these times.
I tend to be in between the two extremes. There are years I dread and years that, for no apparent reason, I’m cool with the winter holidays. It really comes down to my mindset and boundaries.
First, the boundaries. I leave stores that begin playing Christmas music in November. Central Market is one exception, because their background music is truly background, and is usually jazzy. But places that blare cliche music lose my business until January. This may inconvenience me slightly, but sparing my ears and nerves is worth the sacrifice.
The main boundary I maintain is to follow only the traditions I feel like following in any given season. This year I used only the decorations I could easily retrieve and unpack, which left two huge boxes of decorations in my closet. Except for one framed photo of my son at four months with Santa, I plan to discard the rest of what’s in the boxes, and/or combine ornaments into a single piece of art in January. My home is decorated with understated elegance and just the right amount of tradition for me. Less stuff=less stress.
Command appearances and socializing can be combined, and boundaries can be set. A tradition of watching the light show at Mozart’s Coffee in Austin was shared for two years with two of my best friends and a significant other of theirs. It’s the only time my two friends see each other, but I get to see them both and we have a great time. It’s also free entertainment. Insisting on free or inexpensive entertainment and venues relieves money stress while still accomplishing special time with friends and family. Plus, activities keeps family squabbles to a minimum while everyone is engaged. One of my clients planned a casual party for all of her friends and any of her parents’ friends she was close to at her parents’ house on a trip to her home state before the holidays. She will spend the actual holidays with friends and an aunt where she lives.
Some families are more chaotic than others. You may find it necessary to refuse to interact with someone in the family who is a constant source of anguish during normal times. These are usually people with addictions, and it is healthy to say you will not participate with them in their illness. Since others will likely want to see them, that can be arranged separately from time with you. When there are other enablers and co-dependents in the family, this stance can be extremely difficult. But clients who have done it tell me they feel a tremendous sense of relief, and enjoy the rest of the family more, when they finally draw that line in the sand.
Whichever Holy Day you celebrate, if that aspect is important to you, do something sacred for yourself. For some this is church or the synagogue or mosque. For others it is a meditative walk in the woods. Slowing down and connecting to our own spirit goes a long way toward lessening or relieving anxiety and stress.
Reduce gifting, or be more creative with it. I know someone who is making wreaths for everyone this year. They are wreaths with meaning for each recipient, and they can be displayed all year. Creating your own gifts is cost effective, satisfying, and makes the gift more meaningful. Lately my son, sister, and I have begun gifting more experiences and fewer things. Neither she nor I need a lot of stuff, but we love to do fun and interesting things with each other. My son has a better time, too (see the above paragraph on activities and family squabbles).
Get adopted by cool people. For ten years now, my son, sister and I have joined the Bob and Eva Bonilla family and as many of their closest friends as they can get into their house for Christmas Eve. That can be as many as seveny-five people. While I can feel all you introverts cringing, this has been fabulous for us. To be part of La Familia gives us a sense of belonging, and their gatherings are a blast. Firepits, white elephant gift exchanges, The Procession of the Holy Family, lights, lights and more lights, games, and room for quiet talks between friends seen maybe only twice a year. Plus an expansion and mixture of cultures which enhances enjoyment when our typical cultural traditions have become stale.
Decide which events to attend and which to skip. Or, create your own events, whatever is most pleasurable and least stressful for you. I don’t usually attend a holiday event for groups I belong to if I see those people on a regular basis. It depends on my schedule and outlook at that particular time of year, or the event offers something different or inspirational.
So how about outlook and mindset? Become a kid again. Get up in the middle of the night to look at the lights in the front room. Play games. Believe in Santa.
. Since I have pared down all aspects of Christmas (my particular holiday, although I enjoy lighting Hannukkah candles too, and following the Kwanza calendar), I have much more positive feelings toward the whole shebang. Making solid decisions about my time and money output keeps me calmer and therefore merrier. You can do the same.