The Myth of the Holiday “Have-Tos”

December 10, 2021

The holiday season is upon us, which means joyful celebrations, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, happy children and grateful parents, twinkling lights, silent nights, and peace on Earth, right?

Ah, sounds wonderful. But is this picturesque holiday ideal just that- a conception of the perfect, most desirable way to celebrate and cherish the holiday season?

Allow me to introduce to you the “Myth of the Holiday Have-Tos”. You know, “I have to spend X amount of money on my siblings because they always spend X amount of money on me”. I have to create the perfect festive backdrop for my baby’s first Christmas to post on my Instagram”. “I have to keep up with family tradition and visit the grandparents, aunt and uncles from all sides of the family, and immediate family all in one day”. “I have to buy Elf on the Shelf and add this to my already busy month because everyone else I know seems to be doing this, so my child has to have it, too”.

Maybe some of these examples hit that special nerve that makes your eye twitch as the anxiety builds around the never-ending holiday to-do list (who invented this Elf anyway?). Or maybe you truly enjoy all of the activities, planning, and time spent with family from near and far. Regardless of where you may fall within the holiday spectrum, remaining mindful throughout the season no matter what, or how, you celebrate can help you find balance, intentional stillness, and maybe even an extra dose of appreciation as you purposefully stop the clock, take a look around, and breathe in that special magical breath that opens up your eyes and heart just a little bit more.

In therapy we challenge intrusive thoughts that infringe upon our mental health. Sometimes the narrative of what should be, could be, or wasn’t takes over and we struggle to ground ourselves back to a sturdy foundation. The revolution of saying no, setting firm boundaries (even when others get upset with these boundaries – remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings), and holding sacred the protection of one’s peace of mind are not just applicable to those seeking help for a mental health issue. These ideas can be put to good use in everyday life. So, let’s revisit the “Holiday Have-Tos” using an intentional, mindful approach to guide our behavior (and hopefully reap some benefits).

Check in with yourself

At any given moment, preferably before chaos strikes, really check-in with your thoughts, your body, and your emotions. The status of these three domains plays a crucial role in your overall health. As you enter into the holiday season, are you doing so with a clear mind? Is there something sitting on your chest that needs a little more attention before you get wrapped up in this season? Does this time of the year bring you joy, or is it stress-inducing? If it brings you joy- how can you truly soak it all in so that your “cup” is full entering the new year? If this period of time is stress-inducing, what provokes it and where are there opportunities for change?

Ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?”

Is it a part of your family tradition to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve? What if you have a baby whose schedule does not align with this tradition? Does your family get together with that aunt or uncle who makes you uncomfortable because they push your boundaries and always seem to spark a conversation or make a comment that upsets you? Quite often we appease others while simultaneously putting our own wants and needs to the side. Perhaps this is due to some people-pleasing tendencies a lot of us carry, or we feel an overwhelming amount of guilt when we don’t put others before ourselves. Or, maybe, we fear the perceived outcome of breaking the family tradition. Whatever the case may be, if you experience an intense amount of stress building around your holiday activities then ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?” If you are not top of the list, what does that tell you?

Create a values list 

Finally, create a values list. When you have a clear understanding of your personal values, it becomes a little bit (or a lot) easier to make decisions that authentically align with your desires, boundaries, and preferences. The ultimate goal? Well, that is uniquely different for every individual. If you value quality time with your family, does traveling half the day and only seeing family in doses match up with that value? If not – what can change? If you value the idea of making new memories with your growing family, does following old traditions compliment this value? If not – what can change?

Nothing is more precious than time – which seems to be fleeting. Never forget that you have the ability to stop, pause, and change direction so you walk a more satisfying path – especially during the holidays.

Be kind to yourself, and shuffle on…
~ Jacqui

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