There is so much joy, gratitude, and love to be felt and shared during the holidays. You might spend time sitting and talking with family, enjoying the company of people you are connected to. You might feel the anticipation of waiting for a loved one to open a present from you and hoping they like it, while also feeling excited to open all the gifts meant for you. You may indulge (in the best way possible!) in the comfort and deliciousness of food and drinks, not listening to your body when it says it's full and being perfectly okay with that. You are hopefully enjoying any and all time off of work, getting to rest and recharge until it's time to go back in the New Year. Or you might be celebrating in a completely different way or not at all.
Despite all the positive energy and experiences that may be happening, we all know that sometimes the holidays aren't 100% positive and feel more like a roller coaster. There may be bickering and arguing, stress over buying the right presents and enough of them, panic over whether the food is cooked properly and will come out tasty, and any other lingering thoughts and emotions that may underly the celebration and joy.
This is completely normal when you bring together a bunch of people (often family) and have them spend an elongated amount of time together. Memories and old feelings come up, ages-old dynamics get re-opened, and all sorts of anxiety, stress, and even trauma can get triggered. This is such a normal phenomenon that I would actually think it was weird if you went through the holidays only ever thinking and feeling positively.
Here are a few concrete tips for riding the roller coaster of the holidays:
It's possible that being around loved ones might bring up some unhealthy, old defense mechanisms that you've been working so hard to get rid of over the years. For example, maybe you're repressing thoughts and feelings, projecting an insecurity of yours onto someone else, using sarcasm or snarky humor to deflect a negative feeling, or even regressing to the way you behaved as a child (this can happen especially around parents!). I'm not saying to berate yourself if you start to use these defense mechanisms, but just notice if they start to come up. Why? Because it's good information! It will help you understand what triggers them and reduce their power in the future.
There's a lot of sitting around and eating during the holidays, not to mention stress and anxiety that might arise, and so making sure that you're still being physically active at least once a day is very important for improving your holiday experience. Go for a walk, do a little yoga, take a fitness class - whatever it is:
I, for one, spend a LOT of time indoors during the holidays. For one, it's the cold season (in the States) and it's just miserable outside. Two, holidays are all about spending time with people, which usually takes place inside someone's house whether yours or a loved one's. It's great to spend this intimate and close time with people, but it's so important to get a change of scenery for your body and your mind. Get a cup of coffee, go for a drive, take the dog for a walk, spend time reading in the backyard. Allow yourself that break from the intensity (no matter how joyful it may be) of being indoors for hours.
Just like defense mechanisms, you might find that negative self-talk can start to come up during the holidays. It may be very direct where you call yourself "fat" for eating too much or a "loser" for the way you interacted in a particular social situation. It might also be a little more subtle like feeling guilty for taking time off work or not spending enough time with your family throughout the rest of the year. When you hear those negative self-statements start to arise in your mind, challenge them the way you would challenge a friend's self-talk if they were to share it with you. For example, if you feel guilty for taking time to relax and enjoy, tell yourself "I am allowed to take a break, especially during a special time like this."
This is probably the biggest piece of advice I have to offer. Again, SO many things may come up or happen through this holiday season. If you lead all actions and conversations with gratitude, I can guarantee you will find the time a lot more pleasant and joyful.
You are able to let all of it slide right off of you without it bringing you down. So try approaching every situation feeling grateful for it and the people involved. If this seems really hard, take some time to write down at least three things you are grateful for that you know will show up during the holidays, such as specific people or experiences like gift-opening or food, and then keep repeating those three things to yourself in each situation.
Ultimately, you know yourself best and how you can cope with the roller coaster of the holidays. These are just suggestions and I hope that they can help the ups and downs feel a little more stable. Despite the fact that these tips are for if and when negative thoughts, feelings, or situations come up, I certainly hope that the positive experiences weigh out the negative ones and that you have a truly beautiful holiday season no matter if or how you celebrate.