3 Tips for Navigating the Holidays

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As holidays approach, my thoughts turn to the “mixed bag” that the holiday season can produce. Positive elements, such as celebration, connecting with family, and spiritual reflection are often rivaled by feelings of anxiety, strain and even painful memories. I would like to offer 3 tips for parents on how to negotiate common “Holiday Challenges”.

1. Engage in what’s meaningful

The number of activities surrounding the holiday season seems to increase every year. Many of us find ourselves wanting to honor cultural, religious, family, or personal traditions of the past, while attempting to juggle new wishes and expectations. To simplify and focus on what’s most important, ask yourself and your family, “Is this activity/tradition still meaningful?”

Evaluate together which activities still carry their original value. Involve your children and teens in creating new traditions that speak to them. Be aware that often, certain traditions hold important meaning for some members of the family, but not for others. Families evolve as their members grow and change. What will be meaningful for your family this year?

2. Be mindful of—and create space for—feelings

The holidays often evoke memories and feelings of all kinds. Grief for loved ones with whom we can no longer share special times, past painful holiday experiences, and feelings of isolation and loneliness can all be accentuated during the holiday season. If your family has experienced a recent loss (or a past loss at this time of year), or if the holidays tend to be a struggle for some members, consider giving your family permission to participate at whatever level feels comfortable. It’s ok to have a low-key celebration. It’s ok, even helpful, to take time for reflection, journal writing, story-telling, drawing, remembering, and honoring. Children and teens often come up with creative ideas for ways to honor deceased loved ones and to express their feelings. The push to engage in the celebratory spirit can cause us to ignore real needs. Take the pressure off; your family may actually discover new, more authentic ways to mark the holidays.

In the normal holiday rush, it can be challenging to stay aware of what we are feeling… until we are overtaken by powerful emotions. If you notice your stress level rising, try to pause and scan your body for physical sensations that might provide clues to what you are experiencing. Tightness in your chest? Perhaps you are feeling anxious. A heaviness in the pit of your stomach? Maybe you are experiencing some loss or sadness. Acknowledging and tending to these feelings through a call to a friend, a soothing activity, or some compassionate alone-time can make a big difference in decreasing our cumulative stress.

3. If meltdowns are inevitable, plan for them!

If your family is the rule rather than the exception, chances are you’ve experienced some version of “holiday angst”. Holiday-related stress takes many forms, from uncharacteristic family bickering to higher levels of depression or anxiety. We forget that any stress, even when related to a positive experience, takes an emotional toll. While we ultimately look for ways to eliminate the strain, why not be prepared for the more-or-less predictable ways your family copes? Have a backup plan for the teen who just may dig in her heels at the last minute and refuse to attend the party that you look forward to every year. Avoid scheduling events so close together that one family argument has a domino effect on the next three activities. Create breathing-space in your schedule. Most importantly, a mindset that minor meltdowns are natural during stressful times can help you move through the holidays in stride!

Engaging in what’s meaningful, being mindful of feelings and creating space for them, and planning for the occasional meltdown are a few ways to keep the holidays manageable this year.
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