Taking it beyond wine, cookies, and gifts. . . : True Self-Care for the Holiday Season

Apologies to those of you already done with holiday celebrating, now that Channukah has ended. . . I was a bit too caught up in my own latke-making and candle-lighting to get this blog post done before The Festival of Lights. . . but as Christmas and New Year's approach,  I want to share a few tips for handling the numerous emotional and psychological triggers that tend to come along with all the merriment.

With all the social obligations and money-spending expectations on most of our plates this month, have you fortified your personal boundaries?  Examined your triggers to uncomfortable feelings and behavior you may regret?  It may be "the most wonderful time of the year" for some, but for many it is a minefield of triggers related to identity on multiple levels and an incubator for anxiety, shame, and anger.

Emotional triggers may include holiday season-specific situations like extra-crowded stores, travel, and church services, to walking into a home with twice as many holiday cards on the fridge as you have on yours or not having enough money in the bank for all the presents you feel you should buy. . . Or your triggers may have little to do with the holidays themselves, but relate to long-standing or current issues with family you are expected to see at holiday time. As New Year's rolls around, a host of feelings may emerge around unmet resolutions from last year, no one to kiss on New Year's Eve, or a general pessimism around your prospects for a happy year to come.

Whatever triggers you to strong, uncomfortable emotions may be people and situations to A) avoid or B) plan for so that you can stay centered and take care of yourself through the season. Follow the steps below for a holiday season with more jolly and less folly!

1) Identify the people, situations, experiences, thought patterns, etc. that typically cause intense, difficult emotions and/or behavior you tend to regret at this time of year.

2) Take time to evaluate what things can be avoided without sacrificing something meaningful and important to you, (like harmony with a loved one), and what things are important to do even though they are hard.

3) Assess what tweaks might be made to your experience of challenging things you cannot avoid, such as limiting the time you will spend at Christmas dinner with the family, suggesting a dollar limit on gift exchanges, or avoiding political discussions at holiday gatherings. The goal of these tweaks is to reduce the number and intensity of triggers and honestly honor your emotional needs.

4) Practice self-care before, during, and after stressful holiday season experiences. Perhaps 10 minutes of pre-party, meditative deep breathing--focusing on your breath and bringing your mind back to the sensation of breathing when it wanders--could help. Maybe rehearsing a graceful but honest response to your insensitive relative's jab about not being married yet could give you strength.

Instead of drinking more than you want, picking a fight, or holing up and avoiding potentially fun experiences to escape uncomfortable feelings, maybe you can choose this year to start noticing the feelings you're having, compassionately reassuring yourself that it is tolerable and perhaps inevitable to feel that way, and choosing a response or action that aligns with the person you want to be and how you want to act (values) rather than impulsively doing something to make discomfort go away.  It's not easy, and it might unleash a slew of new feelings to feel bad about, but values-based living guided by an honest assessment of your individual self-care needs is probably the best gift you can give yourself and those around you.

Wishing you (inner) peace at this season and a values-driven 2018,