Space. Openness. Fully enjoying traditions and family time. The holiday season is here, and sometimes it can feel more like a time of pressure and rushing than a time of enjoyment.
Here are some themes I saw in the responses to my survey a few years ago about holiday stresses and joys, which some of you participated in a while back:
- Most of you would love to have more time to savor the parts of the holiday season that you love. Some of you want time to do tasks with your own hands that you enjoy when not rushing… for example, baking and wrapping presents. Some of you just want to bask in holiday music and sip hot cocoa.
- Many of you feel a lot of pressure from extended family to celebrate with them in specific ways and at specific times. Many of you mentioned how hard it is to have so many sets of parents with their own celebrations, expectations and timetables. Some of you also pointed out how particularly hard this is when extended families are far-flung, and travel enters the picture.
- A large number of you volunteered very specifically that you really want a massage. (Excellent idea!)
None of these challenges have simple solutions– except maybe that desire for a massage– but here are some ideas to get you started on creating a holiday season that feeds you instead of draining you.
Decide What Matters… To You
Spend some time daydreaming, journalling or otherwise thinking through what you most want to take away from the holiday season this year. Talk with your spouse/partner (and children, if they are old enough) about what matters most to them about this time of year.
Commit yourselves as a family to honoring your priorities and fully making space for them. Make a list and post it somewhere that all of you can see, or choose some other method to keep your shared priorities top of mind. Refer back to this list of what matters most when you make decisions about what you will, and won’t, do throughout the holiday season.
If feeling relaxed, savoring the season and enjoying your family matter to you this holiday season, give yourself the gift of slow + unrushed time. Prioritize and hold space for what matters to you, and say no to things that don’t fit. It can feel like giving things up, but really? It’s actually giving yourself the ability to fully savor the things you do without stress. Here are some ways this might look:
Dramatically simplify crafts, decorating, cooking, shopping and gifts… except for the activities that you actually enjoy doing more elaborately. Choose just a few things you really enjoy doing and allot lots of time for them. Let your spouse or partner, and older kids, take on a few tasks they would enjoy or make some tasks a family project to enjoy doing together.
Skip, or outsource, things that don’t bring you great joy. Even if you’ve done them in the past, you don’t have to do them this year. Less can be more if you can appreciate instead of resenting these tasks.
Not sure whether something is an expectation or a joy? Do a gut check. If thinking about doing something makes you tense up your body or feel anxiety or pressure, it’s probably not something you want. If thinking about it makes you feel longing, eagerness, peacefulness or nostalgia, it might be one of the things worth making time for.
Skip the comparison game this holiday season, too. If looking at pictures of other people’s decorations, baking or crafts makes you feel bad about your own family’s choices, avoid spending lots of time drooling over Pinterest boards. Instead, step away from your computer and go do something you really love.
Make a list of the things that you are NOT doing this holiday season. Perhaps you’ll do some of them another year, or another time of year, or never. When the chance comes up to do something on the “let go” list… remind yourself that you’ve decided not to do that activity… this year, at least… so that you can enjoy your other activities more.
Book Yourself First
Use your calendar to hold LOTS of time for things you might not have formally scheduled in the past.
Create actual appointments for quiet time by yourself, mellow unstructured family time, holiday crafts if you enjoy them, shopping and other activities that come up during this time of year. Give yourself at least double the amount of time that you think something “should” take and plan to do it earlier than you need to. All of this helps you avoid crises and rushing. If you are an introvert, highly sensitive or otherwise the kind of person who thrives best with lots of downtime, make sure that any especially busy interludes or draining social events have plenty of rest time scheduled beforehand and afterwards. You can literally put “rest” or “nothing” on your calendar.
Don’t stand yourself up. Holding open space requires noticing and reinforcing the edges of the container around it. Reschedule appointments for downtime or preparation if you need to shift things around, but avoid outright cancelling on yourself.
Say no to invitations and events that aren’t your top priorities. Putting aside time on your calendar for your own family’s needs is great, but it will work only if you actively defend that time against other priorities. If you feel torn, ask yourself… is this more important than my commitment to a less-stressed holiday season? What will I be giving up to say yes to this?
Saying no to things you’ve said yes to in the past takes practice. Be kind to yourself if you encounter a learning curve or internal resistance as you strengthen your saying-no muscles.
Get Strategic With Extended Family
Saying no to invitations, events and travel often means setting some limits on time with extended family, such as your own parents and siblings. This might mean travelling less, or insisting on a less-packed itinerary when you do travel. If you live closer to your family, this might mean saying yes to some invitations but no to others. It could also mean renegotiating expectations around gift-giving or how time is spent.
Discussing social justice and politics– or not discussing them– is another issue that we can plan ahead for. If you are progressive and your family is more conservative, the SURJ Thanksgiving guide applies to more than just Thanksgiving and is a fantastic resource if you are willing to do the important work of having meaningful discussion over holiday turkey. This powerful piece by Southern Poverty Law Center also has some beautiful approaches to discussing tough issues with family, among other common situations. And if you make the choice not to have these conversations, you can still set boundaries about topics are not willing to discuss.
In some families, peoples’ evolving needs + expressed boundaries are accepted cheerfully and with grace. In others, not so much. Some folks feel ready to rock the boat and do more self-advocating; others don’t. Changing long-standing family of origin dynamics can be hard, obviously, and digging deep into doing that is well beyond the scope of a single blog post like this. If you need support, therapists can help with family of origin work like this.
After the new year, check in with yourself and your family again. Did the pace of the holidays feel right to you – do you wish you had done more or less? Did you skip something and actually end up missing it a lot? Was something particularly wonderful? Any plans for changing how you spend time with extended family for future holidays? Talk it over while the experiences are all still fresh in your minds, and learn for next year. Creating a peaceful holiday season is an ongoing project as needs and desires shift from year to year.
Get That Massage
Get the massage. Or if it’s not a massage you long for, create the space for whatever nurturing experience you yearn for. Grownups get to do nice things for themselves. You do have an hour or two to spare if you desire it, no matter how busy you feel.
Your Holiday Spaciousness
What has worked for your family to keep the holiday season unrushed + pleasant? What are you trying this year?