Tips for mentally healthy holidays:
- Don't fight it. Especially if you're an introvert (and I don't mean shy or antisocial, I mean energetically pointed inward) the Holiday season is taxing. Parties every weekend, less down-time . . . it's TOUGH!! Know what you're doing. Know that if you plan to attend a gathering every weekend, you'll be tired. Here's a great article about how to manage the holidays as an introvert! Personally, I have used the bathroom option MANY times!! Shopping, activities, etc. take a huge toll. Pace yourself. I have started a sticky note list that I use to write down all the times I think "next year I ought to . . ." and stick it on next October. I did this for the first time a couple of years ago and it really has made a difference. Of course last year's note suggested that I have the Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving ..... maybe I should stick that note to July.
- Avoid a hostage situation: You will not die because you don't go to Aunt Sally's house for her homemade fruitcake on Christmas Eve. Everyone involved will survive. However, expect some backlash if you suddenly decide to forgo the family traditions. Eventually, even that will fade. Seriously. Your mother will only mention it in every conversation for a couple of months. You have to make a choice: which is worse? Sitting at Aunt Sally's for hours chewing the same bite of fruitcake in hopes it will at some point become swallow-able or dealing with the backlash from your mother? If you decide to skip it, accept the backlash. Be prepared to have really great boundaries with your mother, and extend your sincere regrets to Aunt Sally. This might sound like "Hey Aunt Sally - I am just not feeling up to a bunch of people right now. How about I give you a call next month and we'll get together for dinner?" (you can leave out "without fruitcake") "Mom, I understand that Aunt Sally is disappointed. I have just come to the realization that I need to conserve energy so I'm not so worn out, and this is a place I decided to cut back. I hope you'll understand and respect my decision." If you decide to go, don't sulk. Be aware that you have chosen to attend the gathering, and be gracious. Awareness of our choice in a situation helps us feel empowered. Empowered is good when dealing with mothers and Aunt Sallys.
- Avoid gift extortion!! Closely related to not being a hostage to events is not being a gift hostage. Don't spend money you don't have on gifts for people you don't genuinely want to give to. Again, there is no HAVE TO. Instead of spending a bunch on something they will throw away, why not get something small (everyone loves lip balm and pens!) and attach it to a certificate letting them know you've made a donation in their name to ABC charity! Bonus points for donating to a charity that you think THEY would support. Here's a website to get you started. How often do you get to say "I gave my boss a camel for Christmas??" If you give someone a gift card for their local supermarket and they get irritated, shake the dust off your feet. However, be aware of the fine line between frugal and stingy, and between busy and lazy. Be honest with yourself. If you're going to give, be generous and genuine. If you're strapped this holiday season, don't be afraid to say so. Announce ahead of time (see, this should have come a month ago) that you will not be giving lavish gifts this year. For those you'd like to give to, offer coupons for services: babysitting, housecleaning, yard work, toilet scrubbing . . . any of those would be more than welcome at my house!! Give a gift that will make a difference, not end up in a closet.
- Practice good boundaries!!! You do NOT have to tolerate Uncle Monty's off-color jokes or wandering hands. You also do not have to show Uncle Monty the error of his ways, or elicit an apology from him (odds are you won't get one). You can exit stage left in a number of different ways. Excuse yourself to the restroom. Go help with the dishes. Quietly just leave the room, or better yet, just roll your eyes (internally) and remind yourself you only have to tolerate this for a few hours a year and think of anything you like about Uncle Monty. Notice I'm not advocating sending a message with the exit. We would call that passive-aggressive behavior. If cornered by Uncle Monty about why you're not laughing at his jokes, you can simply say "I guess I just didn't find it that funny" or "I guess I didn't get it" and then exit stage left before Uncle Monty has a chance to have to push back on you calling him on behavior he knows is inappropriate in the first place. If you're going to take it on and push for permanent change, do it privately at another time.
- Don't make a pre-emptive strike. Don't sit around thinking of what zinger you're going to lay on your brother Hubert when he chides you about those 20 pounds you haven't taken off yet. Don't spend your energy fashioning cutting remarks designed to peel the skin off his body. Think about ASSERTIVENESS. Think about ignoring it. Think about not responding at all - just smile at Hubert, let the uncomfortable silence hang in the air and remember that those 20 pounds are YOUR issue, not his. His mentioning it is about power, not concern. (Concern sounds like "Hey sis - please don't hear this as judgment, but I've noticed you've gained some weight. I love you so much and with your diabetes I'm worried about you. Is there anything I can do to help??" And by the way this conversation does NOT take place at Christmas dinner. It happens privately. ) You can even say, if needed "Hubert, I'm not even going to acknowledge that."
- Don't be a brat: If you're reading this, I'm assuming that you are an adult. In fact, I'd apply what I'm about to say to anyone over the age of about 15. There is NO EXCUSE for creating drama at a family gathering. If you can't play nice, stay home. If you're going to act out and create a big mess, you might as well put on your big-kid assertiveness skills and piss everyone off in a healthy way. Yeah, I get it. You don't like the way so-and-so treats you. Be descriptive. Say "it is not OK for you to make fun of me," or "even though you say you are trying to be 'funny,' I find your comments very hurtful. Please stop." People who are used to walking all over you generally aren't going to congratulate you on your new found boundaries. Christmas dinner isn't the time to insist everyone change their behaviors. Wait till January 2. If you're not willing to create a healthy scene, then smile inwardly and plan for the quiet, respectful conversation you'll have later. Don't shout something nasty and run out of the room and slam the door. You can get away with that up to about the age of 8. And that's pushing it.
- Give a nod to your bod: This holiday season, I have decided I could live the rest of my life very happily eating only gingerbread cookie dough. I bake the cookies for my friends, but I don't usually eat them after they are baked. I think that's just a waste of good dough. During the holidays we eat (and drink) more than we need to, and differently that we usually do. We put all kinds of toxins IN to our bodies . . . and spend January in detox mode. Lessen the impact on your body by maintaining some regular exercise, and throw in a few salads here and there. Believe me - I'm not going to be the person with the plate of vegetables while everyone else is eating pecan pie, port wine cheese and Swedish meatballs, but I am working on trying to find balance on my plate. I don't need to keep going back to the tray of pigs in a blanket. I don't need 5 of those delicious canapes. I can snack on celery. No, it's not as fun, but I will be happy about it later. While you're at it, throw in some exercise. Relax now, it's not that bad. Think about 10 minutes of stretching, or 20 jumping jacks. The more we keep blood moving through our bodies, the more efficiently it can clean out the 10 pounds of peppermint bark we can't believe we ate.