Ready or not! Here it comes! The Holiday Season. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Gatherings, families, parties! The beautifully decorated home, the perfect Christmas tree, the biggest and juiciest turkey. A lovely, loving family, the sweet, angelic children, all dressed in their holiday best, gathered round the dining table, smiling and laughing together in anticipation of the gourmet dinner being placed before them. Wait...what?! Is this a frigging Hallmark Movie? Who lives like this?
I don't know anyone who does but we certainly are made to feel like we should. Everything must be perfect, or Thanksgiving will be ruined! <giant eye-roll>
Life is stressful, holidays more so, and if you have any kind of family issues, alcoholism, abuse, divorce, well...you know. Now add in your own mental health issues that would have regular people running for their lives on a good day. Is it January yet? Not to worry, I've come up with a strategy to help us all get through it. I call it:
THE HOLIDAY ACTION PLAN
1) Prioritize. Your own health, mental or otherwise, should be a top priority. Factor in what you're able or willing to participate in. Gatherings, whether family or friends, can be challenging for many. If hosting this year seems impossible, it's okay to let someone else handle it. Downsizing is also an alternative. Decide which parties or events you really want to or need to go to. You don't have to attend everything, and you don't have to stay the entire time.
2) Decide on and set boundaries. Many of us have a difficult time standing up to, or going against our families. What are you reluctant to put up with? Where is your 'line in the sand'? Once decided, what actions are you prepared to take to enforce your boundary? Are you willing to say something? Can you say no? Are you strong enough to walk away? Setting up boundaries lets others know you value yourself and will not tolerate certain behaviors.
3) Make a plan. Triggers can be everywhere. It's best if you know and recognize them and when you may be triggered. When you know you'll be exposed to an unhealthy situation, plan how you will manage it ahead of time. Know what you will say or do. Set time limits in advance to help your exit strategy. If you're comfortable with it, you can tell the unhealthy people your boundaries prior to the event.
4) Enlist a helper. Whenever possible, request help from a trusted friend or relative. Let them know that if a specific situation arises, you'll need their support and how they can help you. I've personally found it helpful to have a key word or gesture that will indicate to my spouse that I need to leave. He can then assist me with saying our goodbyes before anything escalates. This doesn't always mean an argument; it can be whatever is pushing you to your limit.
5) Set realistic expectations of yourself. During the holidays, so many people feel pressured to do what they think is expected. Visit families, ignore past hurts, make peace, forgive and forget, all because it's the holidays. Some feel they must cook elaborate, gourmet dinners, bake from scratch, decorate like Martha Stewart. Give yourself permission to know you're allowed your feelings. You can set your limits and still be cordial. Know everything does not have to be perfect or done at all. If you love decorating but hate baking, then decorate and buy the cookies or delegate them to someone else.
6) Set realistic expectations of others. You can only control you. Your journey, the positive changes in your life, your independence, may trigger those who haven't supported you in the past or are struggling with their own issues. They may react or respond badly to you or the changes you are making to improve yourself. Everyone is on their own journey and in their own place. Don't expect others to have changed because you were brave enough to walk that path.
7) Simplify. If big parties, large gatherings or extended family are too much to cope with, allow yourself to dial it down. Meet separately with the family and friends that support you. Make your own family with caring and trusted friends. Create your own version of what you want your holidays to be, start new traditions, make new memories and have your best holiday.
Need help creating your Holiday Action Plan? You don't have to do it alone. I can help you learn to defend your values in a firm, non-confrontational manner. I'm only a phone call away and I would be happy to share my ideas and assist you in developing your plan to an anxiety free, joyful holiday season.