San Diego Therapist Sara Cole LMFT
Getting through the holiday season and enjoying it can feel overwhelming, but a little self-care can make a big difference.
So we survived Halloween, which to me feels more like a month than a single day. There are school carnivals, parties, decorations, costumes and trick or treating. All of this is lots of fun and as a parent, it can also feel like a lot of work.
Over the next few months, there are likely more holidays on your family's calendar. None of those will feel like a one-day thing either. I think we spread out the celebration and festivities for lots of reasons, including wanting to celebrate with different groups of people. There are work parties, friend parties, maybe religious events, community events, multiple family gatherings, prepping for any of those and more. There is usually meal or feast preparation, invitations, gift buying and wrapping, decorating and travel for many.
Phew. There's no way anyone could do all of that in a single day. Not even super moms. So instead, it gets spread across a month or more. This is great in some ways because there is more time for some or all of these things that are special traditions. But I think many of us start to think that we have to do ALL THE THINGS and all the regular life responsibilities remain as well. I don't know about you, but the stress of doing too much starts to take the joy out of it. And really, isn't joy and togetherness the whole point of our special holidays or traditions in the first place?
As a parent, we want holidays to be, dare I say perfect? We want to create happy memories for our kids and friends and families. We love these people and want the best for them. And so, we start to want the biggest turkey, the best pies, their most wanted gift on Christmas morning, a perfect table setting, snow outside, cute pj's for the whole family and the dog. We want cute photos commemorating the day. We want smooth travel, fun clothes for each event, and smiles and sparkles and birds singing on our pillows as we wake up. We don't want anyone left out or feeling unappreciated.
We want to do it all and give it all and to enjoy every single second of it. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Unfortunately, we don't get to take the last two months of the year off from work, parenting, adulting, etc. We just have to figure out how to squeeze all of the holiday stuff in with all the regular stuff.... let's take a second here and take a deep, slow breath. Just writing this, I feel my shoulders tensing and my breaths getting shallow, so let's pause and again remind ourselves what the point of all of this is.
What are your reasons and goals for this season? I want to spend time with friends and family. I want to show them how loved they are. I want to enjoy and maintain traditions that take me back to childhood and that I can share with my daughter and niece and nephew. And I want to give gifts. I love giving gifts! But not in an extravagant way. I love thinking of something that would uniquely make that person feel known and loved and seen. What are your top priorities for the season? Are they spiritual or maybe about the fun of dressing up or are you the lady who goes totally overboard with Santa and sleighs and snowmen in her front yard? Are you the chef who shows their love through the food they prepare for others? There are endless possibilities for why we try so hard this time of year and yours are unique to you.
My idea is that every time another "to-do" comes up, ask yourself "will this help me reach my goals for this season?". Try to let go of guilt and the "shoulds" that can creep in. Ask yourself that question and then decide if it is something that is important to you or a loved one or that you enjoy? Those questions will help you begin to make decisions. You can say no to somethings and leave room for the joy.
When you begin to make these decisions with intention, you are setting healthy boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries is one of the best things a person can do to take care of themself.
So for example, imagine a coworker invites you to a gift exchange at their house on the same night you have planned to watch a favorite movie with your kids. How would asking yourself the above questions, help you to make a decision? First off, there is no right answer here. One person may decide to watch the movie earlier in the evening and then attend the party. Another person might talk with the kids about what they would rather do (join in the party or have movie night) and let that guide their decision. There are lots of possibilities.
Another example might be that your family is invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with mom's side of the family, dad's side of the family and by local friends. My old version of "super mom" would probably try to figure out how to attend all three to make everyone happy. Now we either alternate where we go from one year to the next or host and invite everyone. Some families might decide to take a vacation and not attend any of the invites. Again, there a lot of options, but the point is that you let you and your families' goals and values, and overall wellbeing guide the decision-making process.
You get the idea. I would even encourage you to schedule in rest times for yourself and family. Being well rested will help ensure that you can enjoy the activities that you do decide to participate in. Maybe you have an artificial tree instead of a live one. Maybe you don't make homemade goodies for everyone on the block. Maybe you bring a store-bought pie because you needed some downtime last night. Its all okay! Setting a positive example of how to maintain healthy balance and self care in life, is one of the best things we can do for our children. And that is a gift that will last much longer than the latest toy and is so much better than burning yourself out and missing the good parts.
0Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for over 20 years. Sara specializes in working with women to overcome trauma, anxiety and major life changes, including postpartum depression, motherhood, marriage, PTSD or past traumatic events, etc. Sara loves to help people get their anxiety under control once and for all. She is passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.