Oh joy. The holiday season is here again, and I’m thinkin’ about building a bunker.
We celebrate the holidays by giving, sharing and being grateful for all we have received. But it’s also a time when those who have lost loved ones, who have suffered tragedies or trauma or who feel unloved or alone feel the most pain, the most envy and the most grief.
For many, it’s a time of extreme financial stress and worry, because gift-giving and generosity is an expectation (even if that feeling of expectation comes only from self-generated guilt). When money is in short supply and we’re being showered with gifts or invited to donate by dozens of charities, the feeling of inadequacy can be overwhelming.
For those with ample resources, the problem can be one of over-indulgence. Too much chocolate (unbelievable, but it is possible), too much food, too many functions to attend, too much alcohol, too much shopping and not enough sleep.
By the time the holidays are over, we feel like toddlers who crave routine, early bedtimes and healthy, plain food.
As someone who doesn’t love the holidays, I’ve been collecting tips and ideas that I’ve found personally helpful. Here are the top nine:
1) Schedule in some rest time now.
It sounds crazy, but one of the best ways to avoid running yourself ragged is to plan some down time in advance. If you can afford it, book a massage or a pedicure. If you can’t spend money, schedule in some quiet time to read a book, nap or watch a favorite movie. Choose an activity that feels restful or creative—something that feeds you rather than depletes you.
What makes me happiest is when the people that I love are healthy and happy. The same wish applies to you.
2) Remember that your time and your attention are appreciated.
Perhaps instead of buying trinkets or chocolates for your friends, you could arrange to meet for lunch or plan to go for a walk or a skate together. You’ll spend less, catch up on the news and enjoy each other’s company.
3) Not all gatherings have to happen in December.
Given that we all have crazy schedules, consider going for a holiday meal in January—or April. Plan it as a nod to the holidays, but carry it out at a time that is less stressful.
4) Restraint is a beautiful thing.
Although retailers super-size candy and chocolate to appeal to our sense of value for money, many of us unintentionally poison our loved ones with industrial-sized boxes and buckets. If we care about the health and well-being of our friends, we probably should give them smaller food gifts that won’t require five-hundred hours of exercise to burn off.
An alternative I love to give, and to receive, are healthy items that are a little too expensive to buy regularly, like dark chocolate, almond oil, healthy nuts, dried fruit or exotic crackers.
5) Don’t abandon your exercise or meditation routine.
Although it’s tempting to skip your yoga class to make time for those extra errands, your body and mind will suffer. Taking time to burn off stress and come back to the present moment will actually make you more organized and a better decision-maker. You’ll be less inclined to fall prey to manic shopping sprees, and those novelty toe socks for Great Aunt Joan won’t seem like such a good idea.
6) Consider using your labour as a gift.
I had a boyfriend once who used to clean his grandmother’s chandelier every Christmas in lieu of a present. Many older relatives could use help with washing windows, cleaning light fixtures, clearing out the eaves-troughs or painting a room. Many younger friends may simply be too time-starved to get some of these household chores done. Design a home-made gift-certificate and make someone very happy.
7) Consider supporting your local businesses when you can.
Yes, it may cost a little more to buy a gift from the local bookstore than it does to buy it from Amazon, but buying from small businesses means that jobs can remain in your own community, and your local shopkeeper can stay alive for another year. Think of it as an expression of gratitude and generosity.
8) Examine your expectations about what the holidays are supposed to be like, and see if you can be more open to what the reality actually is.
In the movies, everybody becomes more loving and appreciative (and wiser) at family gatherings. In reality, family members bicker, fall asleep on the couch and turn their noses up at your stuffing because it’s not gluten free. There are times when having low expectations is a savvy strategy.
9) Let go.
So much of our holiday misery is self-generated. We complain that we hate doing all the baking and cooking, and yet we balk at the idea of having the day catered. We complain that we spend too much money, and yet we can’t show up at someone’s house without a hostess gift.
The first step in changing any behaviour is to recognize where our addictions are. We have to see where it is that we get mentally and behaviourally stuck.
Undoing holiday habits requires mindfulness and the bravery to start a conversation. Change is always difficult, but you may be surprised at the responses you get when you gather up the nerve to ask questions and talk to your friends and relatives.
Author: Elaine Jackson
Editor: Toby Israel