With the small window to enjoy and celebrate the holiday season, maintaining your boundaries over the holidays can be a difficult task. Especially due to the pressure to “do it all” and do it right. From buying gifts for everyone, including children's teachers, your coworkers, neighbors, etc., attend every light show and holiday event, take pictures, share pictures, hand out holiday cards, make cookies, visit the in-laws/grandparents, cousins, the list goes on and on, and with this long list there is no room left for your boundaries. With all of the events and gift getting, it's difficult to maintain a healthy balance of spending, practicing self-care, maintain nutrition, or avoid exhaustion from trying to do many things in such a short span of time. For many, the holidays not only represent stress, but it also can feel like a lose/lose situation. This time of the year is about being mindful, present, and grateful, rather than running around like a lunatic, unable to slow down and appreciate those around you. However, in the recent years, this season creates a sense of pressure to achieve perfection, and it is easy to lose sight of your priorities, as well as your boundaries. Many feel pressured to fit too much Not only does this in order to help you avoid the post-holiday regret this year, and help you make more of what you driving to family's homes in one day, or spend more on gifts than they can actually afford, or simply spend holidays doing what they think they “should” do, rather than what they want to do. If you want to re-shift your priorities this season, and maintain your boundaries, take this exercise to help you find the approach that's right for you to take this holiday season.
Ask yourself this question first. What do you want to get out of this holiday season? Close your eyes, and visualize waking up on the morning of January 2nd. When waking up that morning, what do you see, what do you feel?
Perhaps you will be looking back reflecting on how you spent your time with your new addition and new family, building memories with your children and experiencing holiday celebration through their eyes, or creating new traditions with your spouse. Maybe you will be thinking about the brief time you had with family you only occasionally see, and will be reflecting on how you made use of the time. Or maybe you will be reflecting on how you felt part of your community, whether a member of your church/synagogue, or involved in local neighborhood events. Will you be reviewing the amount of holiday related events you attended? Or focusing on who and what you bought for people, or what was bought for you? Will you be relieved knowing you made it to all of the holiday recitals at your kid’s school, the office parties to celebrate the end of the year. Will you kicking yourself or patting yourself on the back for getting those holiday greeting cards out in time? Will you be content with how you chose to spend your very valuable and limited time during this holiday season? Everyone has different agendas, different priorities when it comes to what they value in holiday celebrations. Exploring this question can help you navigate where your holiday priorities and preferences fall.
When reflecting back on the past two weeks, what would you wish your memories to look like and feel like?
Would you want your memories to consist of mostly family time? Would your family time and time with close friends involve more emotional bonding for deeper connection? Or would you want your memories to be lighter, involving less depth and more fun and celebration. Or would your memories be less about the people and more about the experiences and how much you covered during the holidays: the gifts giving and receiving, the baking, the family photos, visits to Santa, etc. As for how your memories feel, if they feel like anything, do they feel warm and full of love and connection, or do they feel lighter, more fun and joyful?
Now, take your answer from question one and place it next to question two for comparison. How do these two sets of answers match up to each other? Do the memories that you want align at all with what you visualize wanting to get out of this holiday season. How do these answers support each other, how do they help both of these goals in becoming a reality? How do they conflict with each other?
If your answers are more geared to experiencing all of the social aspects the holidays has to offer (office parties, family holiday parties, gift exchange, baking cookies, sending out greeting cards, etc) be sure to take inventory of your stress level and need for perfection. At what cost do all of these activities and tasks get completed? Is it at the cost of your sleep and well-being? Is it at the cost of spending quality time with your family? Is the rest of your family on board with your holiday priorities? What happens if you can’t make it to every holiday function or wrapping gifts for your child’s teachers conflicts with family quality time? You may want to take an honest reflection of the value of what dictates your holiday season.
If your answers involve more focus on the not so close family members in town for the holidays, you may want to structure your time during their visit to arrange for optimum opportunity. Does this focus come at any cost for you? Are you accepting of the potential cost? if you have children or a spouse/significant other, prepare them in advance and talk to them about how you want build more memories with the more distant family. Listen for their feedback, how do they feel about this being your focus? Would they like to share this goal with you and learn more about their own family history?
If your answers focus on your newer additions to the family (husband, children), what does that mean for your previous traditions and the people once involved? Do your new priorities simply enhance what already was for your family holiday? Or does it require cutting visits, reducing time spent traveling to family’s homes. If this is the path you choose, you may experience slight pushback from family who’s negatively experiencing your changes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change your traditions. Change is hard for anyone, you are simply responding to the shift in your life as you should, holidays are also impacted by life changing decisions like marriage, and children. This may also mean you are letting go of some of the external meanings of christmas (greeting cards, excessive gift getting, etc). When you struggle with not perfecting the more social demands of the holidays, remind yourself of what your primary focus is of the holidays. Remind yourself of your goal.
Everyone has their choice with how they spend their time, holidays included. What’s difficult about the holidays is that it only comes once a year and stays for such a short time. There’s very little time for practice, and with such a large gap in-between the holiday season, it’s easy to forget the physical and emotional toll that the holidays can take on someone who lets go of their boundaries. The best you can do is pick a path after much reflection, and after taking this exercise, and trying it on for that specific holiday season. The information you get after this holiday season is all information to better help you for the next year in your next round of practice. Take care of yourself and happy holidays.