It’s October, which means that if you’ve ignored the fact that Christmas decorations are already up in your local stores this year, as soon as Halloween is over, you will find it increasingly hard to ignore the signs of the holiday season day by day.
The holiday season tends to be a huge trigger for negative feelings for tons of people. Some of that is due to the expectations of “joy” we read in our seasonal cards, and being bombarded by happy family photos, cheesy Hallmark movie storylines, and commercials of that girl that always gets a Lexus wrapped in a bow in their driveway, or all of the Kay’s jewelry proposals.
Photo by Andy Grizzell on Unsplash
REALITY CHECK YA’LL.
I haven’t met anyone that received a Lexus wrapped in a bow for Christmas.
I know for a fact that Christmas family photos are often taken in between screaming threats for everyone to just smile so that they can get a good one to send to grandma.
And Hallmark movies are fictional, ya’ll. Nobody even does that in real life. Yeah, I said it.
The truth is that the holiday season is full of stress – increased expectations for your time and your money, wrapped up with a big old bow of family drama.
But I have good news!
If you can start to prepare for the holidays now --- wait, wait! Don’t run away.
I don’t mean you have to have the budget to buy all of your Christmas presents today. But I mean that walking into the season with a plan can make this holiday season so much more bearable than any before it.
1. Figure out what you want.
I don’t mean you need to write a list to Santa. But if you can sit and think through what your ideal holiday season looks like, you’re off to a great start. Because so often, we allow our family’s expectations of us to dictate what we do for the holidays.
And – listen here- you don’t have to do that.
If your family stresses you out? Limit your time with them. Set this boundary early, before they can make plans and include you in them. And hold that boundary firm.
Want to spend Thanksgiving with friends instead of family? Do it.
Want to hold a Saturday in December open with no plans at all? You have complete control of your schedule. Block it off so that someone else doesn’t throw something in it.
If you’re in a relationship, have this conversation with your partner. Your needs in this season may be different – but you can (and should) communicate your needs.
“Hey, I’m thinking of doing Christmas differently this year. The way we’ve done it has left me burnt out, and it’s really important for me to make good memories with you during the holiday season. I was thinking we could skip the party at Aunt Jane’s this year to make more time for each other. What would you like to do differently?”
2. Knock off the comparison
Seriously. Knock it off. You don’t have to buy a bunch of garbage for your kids, and you don’t have to buy something fancy for every cousin within a 100 mile radius.
Just because Jennifer gives gifts to everyone she’s ever met doesn’t mean that you have to – some people literally show their love by buying gifts.
And some don’t. It's totally ok if you're that person. Or if you're not!
You can send messages to your friends and family members setting this boundary early.
“Hey guys! In working to pay off our debt/save for this vacation/be in line with our financial goals, we have decided only to purchase gifts for our immediate family this year – meaning just our kids. We hope to invest in our relationship in a different way, making more intentional time for you in the year to come.”
Set a budget to spend on your kids based on your realistic finances (and desires) and stick to it. You’ll thank yourself when your credit card statement comes in January.
3. Deal with negative feelings
The holidays can bring up grief, sadness, loneliness, comparison, stress, anxiety, family conflict, and every other feeling under the sun. Despite the “reason for the season,” the holidays don’t put those feelings on pause, and you shouldn’t either.
Pretending like you are experiencing joy and happiness, when you are grieving your grandmother’s death (even if it was 15 years ago this year) is torture. The holidays bring up memories that we can’t always control, and that’s totally normal.
So take the time that you need to process through those things so that you can make space for the moments of joy that are actually there so you can be present and truly experience them naturally, instead of faking them.
Making your holiday spirits bright (I'm sorry, I had to) is really about setting boundaries and being realistic about your expectations. If you want some extra support in doing those things, please reach out! I'd love to work with you to be able to enjoy the holidays.
Need more support than what a blog post can give you? You can schedule with me directly using my online scheduler (linked right here!) or by emailing me at email@example.com.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor serving South Carolina. You can read more about her here.