Wait! Don't skip this because you don't celebrate a holiday in December!
Many of us also experience end-of-year stress around this time. Combined with holiday stress (and anxiety), December can be a month of both welcome and unwelcome thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
While the holiday season brings joy, excitement, and much needed rest for many, it doesn't bestow its gifts equally on us all. December can be a lonely time. We are more prone to anxiety and depression around this time of year, and there is added pressure to feel happy and grateful.
Furthermore, as 2020 draws to a close, everyone is reflecting on their year. It's important to acknowledge that despite COVID, some of us have had a transformative year. If this resonates with you, it's okay to celebrate your journey! We can appreciate the widespread challenges that engulfed the world this year while celebrating our personal growth.
Over the years as a therapist, I have also noticed that we tend to make big decisions around this time of year:
Job or career shifts
Having conversations we have been avoiding all year
I suspect this is because we want to start the new year 'fresh'. Also, if a change of heart has been weighing on us for a while, the end of the year becomes the push we need to be brave and act on that feeling.
The side effect of packing heavy decisions into December is we feel stressed out! Many of us are also desperate to finish our work so we can actually enjoy the days off.
It's important to have coping strategies to handle the holiday and end-of-year stress.
That is where we come in.
Feel free to share your go-to coping strategies for the end of the year in the comments below! It's important to realize that we are not alone in our struggles.
1. Find Ways To Create Meaning
The holidays come with many expectations around gift-giving and carrying out traditions. This year, it can be especially stressful to follow through on these expectations. The pull of consumer culture is STRONG during the holidays. It's so easy to get swept up in all this!
It's okay to abandon those expectations and do what works best for you. Your efforts will be more meaningful if you are carrying them out thoughtfully, and with love and intention rather than obligation.
Instead of simply keeping up, carry out your holiday traditions with new intentions and meaning. For example, if your family tends to do big gift exchanges, try buying your gifts from small businesses, making donations in your relatives' names, or giving homemade gifts.
Your efforts WILL be appreciated! Don't let the holiday consumerism wave tell you otherwise :)
2. Prepare In Advance
If you are not seeing family and friends this holiday, it's important to prepare for the feelings of sadness and loneliness that can come up as Christmas day draws closer. Or perhaps you have older relatives who you know will be alone this year. Think of what you can do to include them as much as possible!
This can involve planning virtual hangouts, dropping off care packages, or planning an activity that will take you out of the house that day.
If you are worried about your ability to cope, ask trusted friends and family members for their support.
3. Maintain Your Boundaries
Are you feeling stressed out about holiday invites during COVID? Or perhaps you are seeing family on a small scale and feeing anxious about being interrogated about your life?
If you are invited somewhere during the holidays and feeling uncomfortable about safety precautions, it is not rude AT ALL to ask the host how many people will be there and what precautions they are taking. It's also a good idea to get comfortable with declining invitations and activities that make you uncomfortable.
Here are some boundary-setting phrases to keep in your back pocket:
"Thanks for thinking of me, but I'm spending Christmas in my bubble this year"
"I'm not going to be able to join this year, but I can't wait until we can all get together again in the future"
"I'm choosing to be low-key this year, but let me send you a dessert or some drinks on me!"
If you are anxious about prying relatives and friends, we offer the following:
"We've talked so much about me, tell me something about how you are doing"
"That's not really up for discussion"
"I'm happy with myself right now, the rest are just details that I can sort out"
4. Think Before Acting On The Pressure
The pressure we feel to be happy or have certain issues in our lives resolved by December 31st is not actually based in reality.
So much of this pressure is self-imposed or inflicted on us by the expectations of others! It may actually be easier and wiser to postpone big decisions to the new year, when we have more room to breathe.
If you are feeling pressured to do something this month, ask yourself whether the end result of that feeling must be action. It can also be reflection, conversation, support-seeking...followed by action.
5. Don't Lose Sight Of What Counts
When we are in the middle of stressful and frustrating moments, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture. Sometimes a stressful line-up, or irritating conversation can make the rest of your day feel sour. It's important to keep sight of what matters. The anticipation of one day, or one gathering, does not have to ruin the whole week!
Take extra care to fill your time with things that being YOU joy (and not just the prescribed notion of joy in December).
The holidays and end of the year in general can be a stressful time! Take a moment this week to reflect on how you can make the next few weeks as easy as possible. Remember, there is no guilt in striving for ease!
I want to hear from you: What is the one thing you do to make your December just that little bit easier?
Until next time!