In adulthood, we chase that memory through literal perfection: three kinds of magazine-worthy homemade cookies at school potluck, awe-inspiring decorations, the must-have custom holiday card, getting just the right presents (and let’s not forget the wrapping that would make Martha Stewart turn green with envy), and looking great at those once-a-year get-togethers.
And, if that’s not enough stress to crack you, cue in tension-fueled spats with parents and children who unceremoniously pick this time to sort out the differences and use you as their personal punching bag.
Every year we vow that this time it’ll be different, better, like before. And every year we seem to fall short of the high hopes. It isn’t that we fail entirely; we just don’t get the real deal that we were after.
May be it isn’t about doing more or doing it perfectly. Maybe it’s about looking within to honor the joy that was there all along.
We asked Manhattan Marriage and Family Therapy team to share their personal insights on how to make holidays stress-free and sane…ish.
I can get totally swept up by the festive feeling of the holidays. It seems like 6 weeks of fun and abundance with Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas and New Year.
To stay grounded and keep things in moderation I find a cause(s) that speaks to me and my family; something that allows us to share our abundance and give back. As a kid we would go to the soup kitchens and serve food on Thanksgiving. As I got older I would spend time at the local senior center singing carols and reading Christmas stories.
Now that I have my own family we find causes we all can participate in. I plan a card making day at the elementary school to make cards for kids in our local hospital, we pick a family to buy a Christmas dinner for through our church, and my son picks a toy to donate through Toys For Tots program.
Giving back reminds me what the holidays are about- family, gratitude, and sharing with others.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because that's when my entire family gets together. This holiday of gratitude sets the tone for the season and places focus on what’s most important in life. To address some challenges that come with it -- boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!!!!
Someone once told me she "white knuckles it" through the holidays. Being around family can often bring up intense feelings, so it’s important to give yourself "alone" time to pause. Even if it is for a minute, find the space to do something for yourself; do a breathing exercise, visualize a favorite place or your pet, go for a walk or just move to a different room. It is possible to find your own space even among others.
I typically try to plan ahead with time and a budget. The holidays tend to fly by and buying last minute gifts while traveling can not only become expensive but it can be unnecessarily overwhelming. I buy one or two gifts a week rather than waiting and shopping all at once. Shopping online can be a great way to avoid holiday crowds and the anxiety of waiting on line.
Focus on being in the moment. It is great to share special occasions with family and friends, so be present in those moments. There will be time later to "share" with those on social media and check up on other people's holidays too. But don't miss the love and connection you can be giving and receiving from your family because your head is down, looking at the phone.
To combat the holiday blues my daughters and I visit the women's homeless shelter in our area every December 23rd. We find out in advance how many children are living there, bake cookies and bring a toy for each child and a festive candle for the moms. It's fun and gratifying, and Christmas feels just a little less commercial and a lot more meaningful.