Simplifying Your Holiday to Save Your Sanity

For some people, the holiday season starts a few days before Thanksgiving and ends during the first week of January. For those people, the holidays are filled with good memories of generations of family traditions, recipes and trips, decorations and songs, presents and trees. It really is the “most wonderful time of the year.” And for those same people, the people, the parties, the coming and going are delightful and exciting.

But not everyone shares these same sentiments. And even for those who love the events, gifts and gatherings, the holiday season can get to be a little too much. When the season gets overwhelming, I recommend that you cut back, cut down, or cut out.

Scale back on spending and indulgences.

When it comes to buying, cut back on the number of gifts or what you spend. You don’t have to break the bank to have good holidays. Worrying about buying enough spoils the joy of anticipation. Scale back on the number of people you buy for; it is absolutely alright to tell people you’re scaling back on spending this year.

You may also want to trim down the number of events you attend. Going to everything frazzled and tired just means you won’t enjoy yourself. Look at your calendar and decide what you really enjoy and what you only go to out of a sense of misguided obligation. Nibble at the next party. A bite of this and a bite of that leaves you feeling satisfied with what you ate without feeling guilty the next morning. That also applies to drinking; when you avoid overindulging you also avoid bad decisions and a hangover. If you do drink, don’t drive.

Let go of unrealistic expectations.

Some people dream about a Hallmark holiday, where no one will argue about politics or religion, the roast and the pie will both be perfectly cooked, and everyone will be appreciate the gifts you spent weeks making. Unfortunately, reality rarely lives up to fantasy and people end up feeling disappointed or let down.

To those people I say, let go of your expectations. Accept that your family and friends are going to behave on the holidays the same way they behave every other day of the year. Plan to arrive late and leave early. Plan replies that cut unpleasant conversations short. Plan a quick get away or just don’t go. Send a card. Send regrets. You have permission to skip events and avoid people that are not good for you.

Grieve, but don’t dwell on pain.

For some people the holidays are painful reminders of people they’ve lost and they wonder how Christmas can be merry without Mary and how they’re supposed to be jolly without Jo. Perhaps a loved one is gone and the holidays are a painful reminder of loss. To those people I say let yourself feel, let yourself grieve, but then, take a deep breath and put your coat on and go outside.

Go for a walk. Go for a drive. Go look at lights. Go do something, anything, because doing anything is better for you than sitting in your house dwelling on your pain.

Even if you love everything about the holiday season, you will wear yourself out trying to create the perfect house and fulfill everyone’s expectations. (Here’s a gentle reminder on embracing an imperfect holiday). Be gentle with yourself.  You don’t know what the holiday season is like for the people you interact with so be gentle with everyone you meet, too.

And, because It’s worth repeating: Be gentle with yourself.

Diana Swaney is a Clinical Therapist with Harbor Behavioral Health.