Do you get emotional over the holidays? Feel stressed, overwhelmed, drained of your energy? Do you finish the year feeling like you need a real break? There’s a lot going on at this time of year, and so many demands on your time, attention and energy. It’s no wonder many people don’t get so excited about the holidays. It might even seem that expectations are high and that you need to do so much in so little time. There’s all the planning around everyone’s commitments so you can attend every event and family gathering you’ve been invited to, get thoughtful gifts within budget, grab some last minute meal items, and keep in mind everyone’s dietary requirements.
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Then there’s the decorations, cooking, cleaning, scheduling the kids, saving during the year and thinking about what to wear and how you’ll fit into it afterwards. Not to mention factoring in time off from work or how to fit your friends and family in around work commitments. It’s quite a different picture of the “holidays” than relaxing on a sunny beach somewhere with no commitments other than total relaxation. I used to feel so stressed and overwhelmed around this time of year that I dreaded going to our big family gatherings. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I really enjoy spending time together connecting, but often the time we spent together over Christmas didn’t feel like connection time to me. Do you ever feel the same? It could be a family reunion, at weddings, birthdays or a specific time of year when everyone gets together in one place.
I remember one year when I had been invited to five different family events over two days, and they were about two hours drive apart from one another. My boyfriend and I had been invited to his mum’s for lunch, his dad’s for dinner, my parents for dinner, my brother’s for another dinner and his grandparents wanted to meet me during that time. Not to mention all the social parties that our friends had invited us to also. I did not know how we were going to make it through three dinners in the same night, let alone get to each of them in time. The worst part about this, was that nobody else was willing to compromise their schedules or plans and I felt like it was very important that we showed up to every one, thoughtful gifts in hand and hungry to appreciate the meal they had so lovingly cooked for us.
I thought everything had to be perfect
I wanted to be the perfect, girlfriend, daughter, grand-daughter, friend and host, but it was physically impossible for me to be in all these places at once. I began to resent the idea that I was “the only one” making sacrifices in this situation, and that I was only going to some of these events or buying certain gifts of a certain price, not because I wanted to, but because I felt obligated. The more I tried to fit myself into this perfect picture I held in my mind, the more frustrated I became and the more angry I was towards others. I stopped looking forward to seeing them, and started focusing on how to just get through the holidays so I could finally rest and be left alone.
The problem was, I wasn’t the only person feeling this way and by the time our gatherings rolled around, each person showed up carrying a ball of stress, resentment and frustration with them. Tensions ran high and some people drank too much in an effort to take the edge off, which often resulted in less than positive interactions, hurt feelings and past issues rising to the forefront of conversations. Of course it wasn’t all bad and we still laughed together and ate together and got to catch up with one another, but most of us were relieved when it was all over. After my last whirlwind experience of the holidays, I went back to work exhausted and feeling so drained that my performance suffered. I stopped working towards the promotions I had been aiming for, and once again just did whatever I could to make it through each day. I knew that I could not keep going like that, and that even if I could, I didn’t want to.
What’s important to you about the holidays?
For me, getting to connect with my family and loved ones in a positive way was the most meaningful thing about our gatherings. I wanted to enjoy the holidays, to see my family and connect, to see all the people I really cared about and enjoy their company. Most of all, I longed for a holiday where I felt calm and relaxed instead of overwhelmed and stressed. I wanted to finish the year feeling better than ever, not struggling to make it through the day. So when it dawned on me that this time of year had become more stressful and less and less meaningful each year, I knew I had to make a change.
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The first thing I changed was my actions. Instead of stepping into the rushing crowd and getting carried away with all the old behaviours I had done each year, I took a step back and looked at whether my actions were matching what really mattered to me. Where was I spending most of my time and energy, and with who? How was I communicating when I walked into the party or gathering? Did the people I cared about know that I cared? I began to set some boundaries and take more responsibility for the interactions that I was having with others around this time. I really thought about what I could do to ensure that when the next big gathering rolled around, I was a calm and comforting presence instead of a stress-ball. Here’s what worked for me:
1. It’s OK to say No
Once I gave myself permission to say no, without feeling any guilt or taking on others expectations, stress was lifted. The key is not to avoid, but to actively say “no thank-you”. You don’t need a reason or an excuse, and you certainly don’t need to spread yourself thin trying to be at every event. I began doing this by committing to the events that meant the most to me and then politely declining all the rest.
Another way to do this might be to simply remove yourself from situations that could be increasing your stress around this time. Whether that means saying no to certain people who may have demands on your time and attention, or saying no to certain events, situations and other appointments. For example, if getting together every year with family members or certain people where you usually have ended up feeling less than great, why not simply limit the time that you spend with them? You could show up to say hello and chat for an hour before moving on to the next thing. Or you could just say “no thanks” One thing that really helped me was clearly communicating the start and end time of any events I was hosting, or letting others know ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to stay for the entire event.
2. Spend time connecting
Once I started saying no, that meant I could say yes to spending more time with the people that I really wanted to be with. Nobody says you have to spend a minimum amount of time with people just because they are your family,work colleagues or people you know. You can make other plans with the people that you really do enjoy spending time with, and at events that leave you feeling uplifted and energised instead of flat or emotional.
Reach out to the people that you have healthy, nurturing relationships with. Other ways to do this might be by starting your own holiday traditions, volunteering, attending a class or meetup group, a local club event, visiting a community centre or connecting with people online.
3. Focus on what you can control
Have you ever noticed that sometimes in the lead up to a big social gathering you might be asking yourself a lot of “what-if” questions? I used to do this whenever I was feeling nervous or overwhelmed. I would start to think “what if Aunty May brings up that thing with Uncle Gerry and they start a fight?” or “What if nobody likes my cooking or worse, nobody even shows up!” or “What if everyone is judging the presents I bought or what I’m wearing and how much money I spent (or didn’t spend)?”
Your questions might be different, however the way to deal with these kinds of unhelpful thinking patterns, is the same. It’s about focusing on the things that are in your control. Can you control what Uncle Gerry and Aunty May do or say? Can you control what other people are thinking or feeling? My guess is no. So what is in your control? Can you change the gift-giving procedures, such as agreeing to stick to a certain dollar amount or a limit of one gift per person? Could you choose to celebrate on a different day or time? I mean, if the real purpose of everyone getting together is to catch up and connect, then does it really matter what day it is done on?
What people are saying about Emotion Academy:
"After many years of training, courses, and counselling in various forms I thought I had certain aspects of my life sorted. Yet completing Emotion Academy showed me that I had been running away from my emotions and not facing them. After Emotion Academy, now I have the tools to engage with myself and win the internal battles once and for all - Neil Welsh, Victoria
For me, it helped to focus on maintaining a positive attitude, ensuring I was taking care of myself so I had the energy to deal with anything that might come up, and walking in with a plan. My plan was usually about personal boundaries and knowing what I would and wouldn’t put up with, or deciding what topics I would or wouldn’t bring up or answer to (like my dating life for example). Sometimes it was as simple as giving myself permission to leave by a certain time or to stay if I was enjoying myself. Making these little decisions ahead of time can help remind you that you are in control of your choices, behaviours and actions.
Knowing this, helped me to let go of the idea that I needed to be perfect. Much of the emotion I felt during this holiday time, was that I felt as if it needed to fit the picture of perfection in my mind. So when things didn’t go to plan, or match my picture, I would become frustrated or emotional. By remembering to focus on what I was actually in control of, I found it easier to let go of trying to control others or make the events go perfectly, because I knew that those things were not in my control anyway. So instead of working myself up about them, I could just step back, let it go and observe without as much emotion.
4. Make time for yourself
At a time of year when the theme is about giving, it might be challenging for some people to give to themselves also. I used to think that I was being selfish if I took some time out for myself to take a long bath, read a book or even buy myself a little gift. But I soon realised that if I was going to show up as my best self, my most kind, fun and giving self, then taking that time out for myself, was really very important. We all need to take care of ourselves enough to feel like we have the energy to show up in the world each day right?
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
At a time when you are likely to be giving more of your time and energy to others, self-care is so much more important. It’s really not selfish at all. When you think about it, it’s a gift that you get to give to others, when you show up feeling rejuvenated and fulfilled. Imagine how smoothly every interaction would go if you felt as if you’d just had the best massage of your life. Taking care of yourself and doing things that invigorate you is especially important at times when there might be more stress than usual. I wasn’t so great at this in the beginning, until I learned to make it my #1 priority each day.
I wrote a list of all the activities I could do that I enjoyed, or that helped me feel full of life and energy. Each day I picked something off the list and did it. It might be as simple as going for a walk and making a healthy smoothie for breakfast, or it could be drawing, reading, gardening, catching up with a friend, doing a sport, watching a movie, getting a massage or hiring someone else to do your chores for the day. What else could you do to fill up your energy cup?
These days I get to enjoy the holidays so much more because I’ve made time for myself, got to connect in a positive way with the people I love and care for, and I actually feel rested, almost as if I’ve just come back from a “real” holiday!
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