“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

….or is it? The holidays are always a trigger for me each year. As Thanksgiving begins to approach and the excitement of Christmas builds, I find myself feeling anxious or at times even down. If this is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” and we are all to have “a holly jolly Christmas”, why do we often find ourselves spending time, money and effort on things that don’t fulfill us.

Psychiatrist say it’s their busiest time of year, or at least that’s what mine says. We set an expectation for ourselves that we are supposed to become super human. Not only are we to meet the needs of our children with presents, cookie decorating, tree hunting and Santa visits, but also those of relatives who are hosting dinners and gift exchanges. Much of this is wonderful and can provoke feelings of Christmas spirit, but to try and manage all of it can take away that spirit or at least damper the feelings of glee.

My husband I have been together for 20 yrs. and have yet to perfect the balance of time spent with each of our families. This pressure to pick who you spend your time with is another hit to the Christmas spirit. It’s as if whomever you spend the holiday with wins the prize of the most loved parent, grandparent or side of the family. Meanwhile this “picking” makes you dread the holiday’s. I grew up in what one would call a “broken family” and I remember the expectation of spending time with each parent, and how it would feel if one did not follow through with their promise of a visit. It was just another reminder of what it was like to not have a sense of stability or security. So, for me, the holidays can bring on a feeling of guilt as well as anxiety over the lack of control and what’s expected of everyone.

Then there are the financial stressors of gifts for your immediate family, extended, teachers, friends, neighbors..and the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have an endless supply of money and buy each person I know and greet something special, but I don’t. I love the gift of giving, but only when it feels natural and not expected or forced. With so many shows that focus on minimalism and tiny living, one would hope to see a shift in the need to buy more things during the holidays. There’s a hope that as a society, we would start to focus on taking care of and rewarding ourselves with more permanent practices rather than material things. I’m a big fan of amazon, and when I’m feeling down, there’s nothing better than filling that cart up. We all know though that it’s short lived. The high does not last as long as a yoga practice for me, or getting together with a friend and sharing in each other’s life struggles as depressing as that sounds.

It’s also funny to me that all of this chaos is created over a holiday that represents a religious event that most people aren’t even fully versed on. I would include myself in this category. We are spiritual people, but I was not raised in a specific religion and do not practice one with my children. They are aware of why Christmas is celebrated, but that’s the extent of any ritual involvement for us. We have a nativity scene that we set up each holiday because it belonged to my grandmother and meant a great deal to her. She was an important figure in my life, so having that in my home each holiday season bring me a feeling of her presence. Those are the things that refill my Christmas spirit.

This all may sound very scrooge like to you, and I must say as I get older I can see where the guy was coming from. However, I still love the holiday and the excitement it brings to my three boys. I love when my husband gets all Clark Griswold on our yard and I fear for his life and he’s hanging off the roof. I love decorating cookies with my kids and making reindeer food, but only when it’s something we all are up for. As a family, we are no longer doing what we think everyone else wants us to do. That’s the best way to preserve our spirit. So maybe you don’t see all of your family members in a two-day period. There is no rule that says you can only see each other one week a year. This might be the year that you miss the light show downtown and instead treat your evening like any other Saturday night of the year. You have to tell yourself that it’s ok to have some down time during an otherwise busy time of year. We need that balance, otherwise there is no time to refuel and no time to just sit in your living room and enjoy your Christmas tree. Be selfish with your time and energy so that you are creating happy moments and memories for yourself and your children. It’s an important time for self-care, especially if you have a history or are currently managing anxiety and depression. Don’t run yourself into the ground. Watch your sugar and alcohol intake that is so tempting during the holidays and make it out to an extra yoga class or walk with a friend. Spend time with those who bring you comfort and positive energy rather than those who may drain you but you feel forced to be with. Lastly, remind yourself and your children about the gift of giving. Giving comes in many forms and some of the best ways are through an extra smile to someone as you pass them on the street or in school. Reaching out to someone who makes you feel happy and letting them know how thankful you are for them. That in itself is a gift that once again refills that Christmas spirit. Be kind, show care and send love to those who need it most, including yourself. Happy Holidays!