It seems like overnight we’ve gone from barbeques and sun block to scarves and pumpkin-flavored everything. Which means that while the rest of the animal kingdom starts to slow down and get ready to hibernate for the winter, we humans, in our infinite wisdom, are ramping up for, what is for many of us, the most hectic, stressful, and sometimes lonely time of year.
While the holiday season can be joyous for many, it is also fraught with perils. We may pressure ourselves to prepare the perfect meal, buy the biggest, most expensive or most thoughtful gifts, and attend every party we’re invited to, even when we’re bone tired and would rather be home on the couch. A cookie party with loved ones can be wonderful. But what if you get distracted wrapping gifts while they’re in the oven and they get a little burned, and suddenly it’s 3 AM and you have to be at work in 6 hours and you don’t have enough eggs to bake another batch? Well it’s amazing how quickly something that was supposed to be fun can start to feel like a burden.
For some people, the holidays are a reminder of what they perceive as missing from their lives. The lack of a romantic partner or the strained or absent relationships with family members make this a time a year that some face with dread, rather than anticipation.
Do you already know that you’re destined to get sucked into a political debate with your brother-in-law, who is just so wrong about absolutely everything that makes it impossible to enjoy your turkey? Do you find yourself tensing up at the mere thought of having that same fight with your mother that you have every single year? Do you tend to spend the holidays alone, because friends and family live far away, have passed on, or the relationships have simply become too destructive to continue?
So, how do you survive the holiday season from Halloween till New Year’s? Regardless of your situation, you have the option of choosing to have a different experience from the one you had last year. By practicing mindfulness, you can begin to notice that split second opportunity in between your Great Aunt Gertrude asking when you’re going to settle down and start having kids and your explosion of rage in response (problematic whether you let it out or hold it in). Is there a way to view this question as something other than nagging and pressure? Is it possible that she is asking out of love and concern?
Taking just a few moments to slow down and breathe can make all the difference in the world because it gives you the opportunity to imagine things another way. You don’t have control over your family’s antics but the clarity that comes with increased awareness gives you the ability to act, rather than react when faced with a potentially stressful situation. A reaction is a habit. For example, your six-year-old son accidentally spills juice on the new carpet moments before company is expected and you scream at him in frustration, losing your temper. He bursts into tears and you end up feeling guilty. But when you are in a state of mindfulness, you see the juice spill and you pause and take a breath. Suddenly, you have options. You can ask your son to help you clean up, move the furniture to cover the stain, or even use it as an opportunity to bond with your guests, because your child is not the only one who has ever made a mess and they can probably relate.
If you’ve spent holidays on your own in previous years and felt lonely, is there another option? Is it possible that there is a friend or family member who might be delighted to have you join them, if only you made yourself vulnerable enough to ask?
It’s also important to remember that no matter how it may feel, your current circumstances are not permanent. For holiday season next year you may find yourself in completely different surroundings with new people, or vastly improved relationships with the people who are currently in your life. You may meet your ideal partner, adopt a child, move to a new city, or find yourself surrounded by a non-traditional family through a new work opportunity or travel. One of my most memorable New Year’s Eves was spent on a yoga retreat, watching fire works reflected in a shimmering lake in Guatemala surrounded by people who were strangers at the beginning of the week and dear friends by the end (and to this day).
During the holidays it is especially important to be gentle with yourself and with others. Try to release your inner perfectionist and take part in the aspects of the holidays that are truly meaningful to you. By doing so, you’ll not only enjoy the season more yourself, you’ll also be giving others permission to do the same.
Finally, during this, the alleged “most wonderful time of the year” it can be helpful to remember that however you’re feeling, there are countless others who are feeling the same way. If you would like to avoid struggling during holiday season this year, call (212) 335-0511 or email info@DrChristineNYC.com.