The holidays can wield such a double-edged sword, can’t they?
On the one hand, this time of year is filled with family, friends, tradition, delicious food, and celebration.
On the other hand, this time of year also brings with it jam-packed schedules, making self-care even more of a challenge. For people with anxiety over food, the constant stream of goodies and social events centered around eating can exacerbate the problem. Tense relationships with family members or friends often feel more disappointing at this time of year. And, people who have suffered loss sometimes feel their sadness more profoundly as they watch others around them celebrate.
Essentially, Christmas has a way of taking all our emotions and intensifying them, for good or bad.
I’ve got no magic potion to help you get through the holidays if you’re struggling. I definitely have my challenges, too. (And, my current state of 18-month-long exhaustion is not helping me cope.) But I can offer up one mental exercise that has helped me weed out some of the negative.
Examine Your “Traditions”
Traditions are great. They link us to the past. They link us to our family even when we are far from them in space or time. They offer us comfort in their regularity and sameness. With them, we know what to expect and in this crazy world, and that can be a glorious thing.
But, frankly, some traditions cease to serve us. And if you are, like I was, holding on to traditions for tradition’s sake, I challenge you to really unpack your emotions around your traditions and see if they are still serving you well.
Case-in-point: I come from a Scandinavian family. Every Christmas Eve, my father’s family would prepare and serve traditional Swedish food. My cousins in Colorado, who had better access to authentically-prepared Swedish fare enjoyed this tradition more than we did because in the South in the 1980s … let’s just say lutefisk was not available at the local grocer.
Let me just pause here and, for effect, share with you a bit from Wikipedia about lutefisk:
It is gelatinous in texture, and has an extremely strong, pungent odor. Its name literally means “lye fish.”
Anyhow, my mom did her absolute best to uphold my dad’s family traditions. She jerry-rigged dish after dish and slaved away for hours prepping.
And every year, dinner was awful.
We whined. We complained. We gagged. We didn’t eat it.
Wisely, my mom eventually ditched the traditional Swedish dinner in favor of a Christmas Eve brunch with my cousins. She served some pickled herring, as a nod to our Scandinavian roots, but by-and-large, the food was more Tennessee-traditional. And, needless to say, much more popular.
No more gagging.
When the tradition failed to serve in a positive way, Mom adapted.
But What About the Really Hard Ones?
Lutefisk is not hard to ditch.
That annual cross-country trek to your childhood home may be.
Or, the Christmas Day tradition of going to your parents’ and your in-laws’ and your cousins’ and dragging the kids through all of it after they open their presents and just want to play.
Or, that midnight service on Christmas Eve which used to fill your spirit but now makes you a grouchy pain-in-the-behind all Christmas morning.
The decisions are not easy and they may have ramifications that last long after the holiday season.
So maybe that tried-and-true decision-making tool, the Pro/Con Chart, is in order. But just make sure that you consider your own personal health and emotional wellness as you list out those pros and cons.
And, remember, just because you mix things up this year does not mean that you can never go back to the tried-and-true. That’s the great thing about traditions – they tend to endure.