‘Tis the season to be jolly, yet more often than not, we find ourselves in less than high spirits when the holiday season hits. Whether it’s because old family tensions reach a boiling point in the run-up to the all-important event, or because the lack of daylight is getting to us in the colder climates, it’s important to realize we are not the only ones having a hard time emotionally during this time of year. In fact, many people are. Here is what you can do to navigate the emotional roller coaster through the holiday season and still enjoy the ride.
1. Let go of your concept of how it should be.
This is probably not what you want to hear and it can be hard to do, but it always works. One of the reasons why stress runs high during this time is because we tend to be overburdened by images of perfect holiday settings. We want it all – the perfect outfit, the perfect dinner, the perfect family, the perfect decoration, the perfect gift for each and everyone.
While it’s good to care about making it a great event for everyone, when we set the mark too high, we can ruin it for ourselves and those we love. When you find yourself getting stressed out, check for what gives you joy during this time and let go of everything else. It’s probably more simple than you think.
2. Less is more here.
Yes, it is. Go through those long lists you have in your head or on paper of everyone and everything you should be thinking about and doing something for and, one by one. Cross out anything that is not essential. Meet less people. Buy less gifts but put more care into them. Make less food but make it good. Throw a less-than-perfect-party but be a relaxed host. Don’t throw a party at all, if it stresses you. Make it a cup of tea with friends and see where it goes.
3. Check what your real needs are.
Sounds obvious, but many of us get caught up with taking care of everyone else’s needs during this time of year that we forget to slow down and check what our own needs are. The result can be that we get trapped in fulfilling each other’s presumed expectations, yet nobody gets what they need or want in the end.
It can be tough to be honest about what we find when we take that space to breathe and check in with ourselves. Yet if you step up and speak out about what you need – whether it is time alone, a massage, a pillow fight, a silly game or a hug – you give other people permission to do the same.
4. Feel what you are feeling.
One of the big emotional holiday traps is that the pressure is so high to be happy. Yet, with daylight being scarce, family members often traveling long distances to spend this time together and expectations running high, it is normal to experience less-than-happy-feelings during this time. This is not a problem per se, yet it soon becomes one when we choose to suppress what we are feeling rather than allowing it to just be there.
The holidays are about connecting with ourselves and each other. Emotional honesty – feeling what we are feeling and not covering it with what we think we should be feeling – will often go a long way in creating that intimacy we long for. And the best part is: by allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling, we soon discover that the joy we are looking for is just around the corner. But it often comes in the company of more challenging feelings, which want to be cherished as well.
5. Practice Gratitude.
At the end of the day, it is not what we have or accomplish that determines how happy we are, but rather what we are grateful for. Yet, being stressed and being grateful don’t go too well together. That’s why it is important to slow down, especially during the holidays.
Practicing gratitude is not about talking yourself into liking what you really don’t like. It is about consciously appreciating the good things in life. It’s about that first moment in the morning when you wake up and realize you have a warm, cozy, comfortable and safe place to sleep in and saying thank you for that. It is about that moment when you look around the room and realize your friends or family are with you and how good it is to have them, even if they can be annoying, challenging, or stressful. If we miss those little opportunities to say a quiet thank you, the gifts in life and of the holiday season pass by unnoticed.
That being said: keep breathing and enjoy the ride! After all, it is also the emotional intensity of the holidays that makes them such a special time of the year. If you keep these five keys on hand, chances are you will be able to enjoy the emotional highs and lows as an opportunity to celebrate life – your life, exactly the way it happens to be this season.
Vivian Dittmar grew up on three continents in three different cultures. In doing so, she developed a unique perspective on humans and their interactions. Traveling between first, second, and third-world nations, she was struck by the contrast between people’s external wealth and their corresponding life issues. Her experiences led her to pursue a career in the fields of self-help and personal development.
Throughout her career, Dittmar has worked in Germany, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Italy, Greece, and Sweden. In Indonesia, she ran her own practice working with clients from all backgrounds. She then returned to Europe and set up the non-profit, Be the Change Foundation for Cultural Change. The foundation offers educational events to raise awareness about ecological and social justice issues.
Dittmar also works as a trainer and coach. As a coach, she helps small and mid-sized business owners and executives develop their emotional intelligence. She is also the author of three successful books – the first of which has been translated from German into English, Italian, and Spanish.
Dittmar currently lives between Germany and Italy and is a mother of two sons.