Holiday Guilt and Stress

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Dear Laura,
Every year for the holidays, I feel pulled in a million directions. My in-laws and my parents all expect us to make the rounds and visit them, the kids have school activities, we have work parties to attend, shopping, cooking, it just all gets to be too much! What I really want to do is run away for a few weeks and not look back. I feel like I am letting everyone down, but my heart is just not in it. Please help. –K.

Dear K.,

Every year at this time I see normally sound and reasonable people go a bit berserk. Why are we putting so much pressure on ourselves? Guilt, commercialism, and a steady diet fed by media that is brainwashing us with more imagery, commercialism, fomo (fear of missing out) on the next deal/sale/great thing, and the idea that if our lives don’t look like a Hallmark movie then there must be something wrong with us. Women are particularly sensitive to the pressures of this hype because historically/traditionally we are in roles to care for the needs of others. Too often this has been at the expense of ourselves. How we can appreciate any of it when we are so busy rushing around just to get it all done? The pressure can be enormous, unhealthy and unrealistic.

It’s time to stop running on auto pilot to take back your power. Start today. Make a list of what is important and meaningful to you about the holidays. Search your heart for some alternatives to the chaos. Is it about stuff? Or is it about people making new memories together? If too much traveling is a problem, consider having everyone over to your place. One family I know moved the big gathering into the summer months, so that they can have more stillness at home during winter. Another goes on a family vacation to someplace warm and sunny every December. Another puts names in a hat and has a $10 spending limit. Still another gave up the big gift exchanging and donated the money to a charity. Another spends it serving food together at the homeless shelter. Another goes for a family hike, and another goes to the movies!

There’s no right or wrong here. Relax. You’re doing the best you can! You’re just one person and you’re doing the best you can each day—right? Statements like these are powerful affirmations to say out loud whenever you are overwhelmed. Use the first person: I’m just one person doing the best I can right now.

Use that same creative energy that normally helps you power & push through it all in a whole new way! …To redefine the meaning in it. Explain to your partner and children that you love them, however this year you are going to do things in a new way and start a new tradition going forward. It’s time to evolve. Ask them for their willingness. Tell them that would be their best gift ever in return to you. Ask them to be willing to help participate, and help figure out what is meaningful and important. Perhaps they can contribute in the pared down preparations by taking on some of the tasks that you used to do alone. Maybe they each have an idea they want to do, or there may be consensus on what the new tradition will be. Evolution is a beautiful thing!

I hope you can love yourself enough to be willing to change this. When you do, the real meaning of this time of year will come through. Remember, none of us needs a yearly holiday to show those around us that we love and appreciate them. We can do it anytime! A heartfelt note can have ten times the meaning of anything you can buy at the mall. Think less stuff, more sustenance. Good luck and happy, healthy holidays!