Okay, we have talked about the way the holidays may make us feel, and how we can cope while all that feeling is happening. Now, let’s look at some practical strategies to actually make it through the day.
I speak about preparedness quite a bit. It’s not that I want to suggest you should be on high alert all the time, but there are certain ways in which you can prepare yourself and make it easier to set up and maintain your boundaries. Your boundaries protect you from emotional attack and will keep yourself safe and sane.
Boundaries are great and important. Still, you don’t want to freeze in fear of possible infractions. When I first cut contact with my family I did a lot of strategising. In part this was because I was still in touch with my sisters, in part it was just my mind still operating in survival mode. There is a fine balance between being prepared for legitimate threats, and just being anxious and obsessive. But how do you learn the difference, and how can you use planning and strategising to calm the anxiety?
Perhaps, more importantly than any of the suggestions I’ll discuss, make sure your plans suit your own wants and needs. Try not to give in to the pressures of society, television, and especially Christmas movies. The holidays are about spending time with the people who are dearest to us; who nurture our souls. They can be your neighbours, your friends, the people in our community, or in fact with yourself. It is your choice who you will spend this time with, and it’s also your choice who decide not to spend time with. On top of that, it’s your choice how you spend that time. Pick activities you like, or things you have always wanted to try… you are in the driver’s seat.
Spending a lot of time dwelling on memories of the past, or worrying about the future takes up valuable energy and enjoyment of today. When you are living in the past or the future too much, you may start to feel depressed or anxious. Should that happen, take a moment to come back to the moment. Take a few deep breaths and concentrate on your senses. What do you see, smell, hear…what physical sensation are you noticing? Are you warm, cold, tense, tired, hungry?
This will return your mind to the here and now. It has the added advantage that you may pick up on signals (like hunger, thirst or tiredness) that could be contributing to your worries.
Everybody gets overwhelmed this time of year, pinky promise. I think the real question you should be asking yourself is: “so you are overwhelmed, so what?” How does feeling overwhelm, in any way, diminish your value? Give yourself permission and time to deal with the feelings that are coming up. It is important to acknowledge what is going on without dwelling on the pain. So, make time to take care of yourself. Make time for journaling, for example, so you can process your memories and feelings without getting stuck in thought loops over them.
At the same time, you may not feel overwhelmed with emotions. That’s fine too! Perhaps you expected the memories to come flooding, and they aren’t. That is nothing to feel bad about. Sometimes the flood doesn’t come until after the actual stressful event is behind you. And sometimes… they don’t come at all.
Just stay present and go with the flow of your body and mind.
In order to find the flow, especially if you are not used to being tuned in just yet, try taking notes of when you feel overwhelmed, sad, happy, etc. Also note down what you’re doing, what you’re eating and drinking… just keywords will do. Can you discover a pattern? Are certain people, situations, foods or locations triggering?
Becoming more aware of your triggers can step back before overwhelm becomes panic or anxiety. It can also help you develop more effective self-care strategies. Making sure you stay well-nourished and hydrated is likely going to help you manage your emotional responses much better.
‘T is the season to be jolly…and sad, angry, disappointed, heartbroken, confused, grief stuck… you know, the whole spectrum of emotional being. Make sure you have space to deal with the emotions that come up. Get enough rest, make sure you are well-nourished, hydrated, relaxed… you name it. Create room in your schedule to look after you.
Journaling is a great way to process and record your emotions and thoughts. Making some time to write about what is going on, will help you feel more in control of your inner-dialogue.
To help you get started I've added some journaling prompts to this lesson.
Make sure you plan some quiet moments for yourself. Whether it is real meditation, a quiet walk with the dog before the rest of the world wakes up, or a quiet cuppa in the kitchen. Taking small breaks from the holiday madness can help you recharge your battery and will help to deal with all the little things that may otherwise pile up and cause you to reach boiling point.
Yes, it can be helpful to prepare, but overdoing it is counterproductive. There is no way you can think of every single thing that can possibly go wrong, be said, or implied. It is better to come up with a few general strategies to help you play to your strength, create some space and give you excuses to get away. We share a few below that you can just tweak according to the exact circumstances you find yourself in.
Worrying too much may be an indication of self-doubt. You may feel you need a detailed battle plan because you are not sure you can handle yourself. Well, that’s what you have the general strategies for. In order to help you stay positive and confident, try to design a few affirmations. Tell yourself you’ve got this, you can do this, you have a 100% survival rate so far. It may sound silly, but saying these things out loud can really help you boost your confidence.
Not everything that influences us, is under your control. As much as that can be frustrating, there is nothing for it but to accept that. The question then becomes: where is your circle of influence and how can you use it to direct the holidays to suit you?
We have already mentioned a few things that you are in control of, like who you spend time with, activities you decide to engage in, how you care for yourself in order to feel most resilient, for example. In the section about dealing with toxic family members, below, we will look at a few other ways in which you can influence your circumstances.
Even with the best of preparation, life can still throw you a curveball or two. So, another part of your preparation is to think of a few ways you can deal with the unexpected.
However hard you try, however much you prepare and try to control your circumstances, your life is not a Holiday Special. It just isn’t. Under the best of circumstances, your holidays are not going to be perfect. Imperfect is still pretty good though! Don’t let unexpected events throw you off. Don’t let unexpected feelings or memories spoil good times.
Just because things are not the way you’d dreamed, or wished, or imagined, doesn’t mean they are not enjoyable, and memorable.
We have established that the holidays are not going to be perfect, stuff is going to go wrong, there are going to be emotions, curveballs and possibly toxic family members. Still, it is important to stay positive. Not the “override any emotions with a frantic smile” type positivity, obviously! Truly believe you are going to have good holidays, whatever life throws at you! Then, focus on the people and activities that bring you joy.
Don’t go it alone. There will be plenty of people who understand the stress you are dealing with. If not the people around you, then certainly your fellow survivors. You can meet them in the SwanWaters Facebook Group.
Christmas can bring out stress in even the most peaceful people. There are gifts to buy and overcrowded shops. An elaborate meal must be cooked for family and friends. The house is to be made to look festive. The list goes on and on. Add a toxic family dynamic to the mix and the stress can be overwhelming. So let’s talk about some ideas for how to survive the holidays without losing your mind.