Hey, did you feel that? I did. Wham. Like a snowball in the back of the head, Jack Frost and the Spirit of Mall Shopping is in full swing. But don’t let the festive season drive you ’round the Xmas tree, over the dreidel or into the Solstice fire.
I don’t know about you, but I think the holidays put a strain on everyone. Those of us dealing with a mental illness (which includes myself) can be particularly vulnerable. Family can be a source of support and enjoyment during these harried times. Or they can be the source of harried times.
As a child, my parents did their very best. They loved me, doted on me even. But the tension between them could be cut with a knife, especially during the holidays. We were a diminutive unit. Ours wasn’t a family circle as such. More of a family…err… teeny triangle: Mother, Father, Me.
I had no nearby relatives to dilute my parent’s marital Molotov cocktails. It made for small, but rather charged gatherings. If you could call the presence of three people a gathering. There was nowhere to run if someone was arguing. Do the math. It takes two to tango, so that leaves one poor soul caught in the middle. And that soul was usually me.
It wasn’t until far into my adulthood and years of therapy later that I learned effective coping strategies to reduce the likelihood of spiraling into a black mist, an anxious whirlpool or hyper highs during the holidays. Not to say that I don’t dip, peak or scramble, I do. But it’s much less severe and much more manageable.
Now that dad has passed away and I’m married, it’s me, my mom and my husband. But the taut dynamic of a trio remains looming. So each holiday season I keep these 5 seasonal strategies top of mind to ensure I stay within my ‘sanity clause’ (groan – sorry I can’t help myself).
5 hot tips for keeping your cool and holding your own over the holidays:
1. Know your limits and assert them with kindness and firmness. Don’t feel pressured to say ‘yes’ to every family event. Even the Holiday Spirit needs her down time.
If you need inspiration, or a definition for that matter of ‘boundaries’ watch this great video by one of my heroines Brene Brown. I didn’t even know what my therapist meant by ‘boundary’ until about 6 months ago. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
“Know your limits and assert them.”
2. Get a reality check from trusted sources to support self-care. Solitude to recharge, running in trails and naps are a large part of my daily self-care regime. But I sometimes feel guilty and torn doing it. When this happens I enlist the help of objective allies to remind me that self-care isn’t a luxury but a necessity if I want to stay mentally well over the holidays (or anytime for that matter).
I have close friends who know me, my limits and my mom and are refreshingly frank with me. So when they affirm that these ‘time outs’ are called for, and that my situation is extremely challenging, not just my imagination or me shirking my daughterly responsibilities, I have vowed to listen to them and follow their advice. Find one or two ‘truth-sayers’ whose word you promise to respect.
If you feel sideways, Dr. Anthony Storr’s ‘Solitude: A Return to the Self’ may lift you up and affirm your right to alone time. It’s a classic on why solitude (not isolating) is essential and healing.
“Self-care isn’t a luxury but a necessity.”
3. Do not isolate, When the wounds of ‘Decembers’ past come knocking, often all I want to do is rip my duvet from my bed and crawl under a table with said comforter until all festivities are finished and February is well underway. Do not do this! Even in the depths of your worst depression, do not and I repeat do not evaporate from sight. We need you, even if you can’t imagine why.
“Do not isolate – we need you.”
4. Spend time with cherished friends. We can’t choose our family (I mean often when I’m depressed I can’t even choose what flavour of potato chips to binge on). But we can choose our friends. Your family gatherings may not be like a Norman Rockwell painting or a Gap commercial (and whose are?), but your friends can be a pool of peace and pleasure.
The company of friends doesn’t make my depressions magically disappear, but it does remind me I am worthy of having friends. Something I don’t believe when I am at the bottom of the depression pit looking up. Be selective with whom you spend your time.
Choose friends who make you feel all warm and fuzzy. This doesn’t mean refusing to see your relatives all together, but rather balancing your time with friends and family with more awareness.
“Spend time with cherished friends.“
5. Exercise. Ok let’s rephrase that to make it more palatable: move your body. Now I know it’s not what you want to hear. But wait. It’s not for the reason you think I am telling you to work up a sweat. Exercise provides the perfect, and actually very legitimate ‘excuse’ to take time for you.
Exercise has long been known to be a great mood booster and stabilizer. So how can any concerned relative who is driving you around the Christmas tree or over the dreidel refuse you the liberty of taking care of your health?
So even if you don’t work up a sweat – find something to do, on your own or with a good buddy that gets your blood moving (before your blood starts to boil). The time away from family AND the increased heart rate will fare you well.
“Move your body.”
Family can be a place of warmth and comfort over the holidays, but for some of us, probably many of us, it can be a source of stress too. As I’m learning what my healthy boundaries are and setting them without incessant apologies or indignation, I’m enjoying my time with the family ‘speck’ more.
And I’m pretty sure I’m more enjoyable to be around. It couldn’t have been much fun for them to hang out with me when I offered so little of myself and instead offered disdain. Ironically, it is through the process of healthy individual definition and separation that creates hearty family connections.
Remember the 5 Ways to Prevent Holiday Meltdown:
Spend time with cherished friends
Move your body
From my home to yours I wish you the very best of the season and an abundantly peaceful New Year for now and always.
© Victoria Maxwell
For information about booking Victoria as a speaker or have her lead a workshop, visit her website: www.victoriamaxwell.com