By Benjamin Wood, MS, LMFTA
Maximizing Your Christmas
Despite the temperate humidity of South Mississippi, the holiday season is upon us—bringing with it good food, holiday shopping, catching up with friends, and of course, expectations of creating new memories with those we love.
For many, this time of year highlights family traditions and rituals that have been passed down for generations. Discussions of decorations, special gifts, and family recipes fill our days as we plan holiday parties and the office “Secret Santa,” and organize our travel strategy to make it to all the relative’s houses as to avoid offending anyone.
For others, it is a time to create new traditions that will be carried on by children and grandchildren. As I survey my own expression of family, it is most certainly an organic experience made up of blood relatives, adopted children, genuine friends, and occasional strangers that all help me define the true reason for the season.
Truly the joy of the holiday is having the ability to express what it means to be a part of a family, even if we are not all related.
The holiday season evokes strong feelings that may create a certain level of expectations around our interactions with others. Some emotions this holiday season may by tempered by experiences in our lives that were difficult or even traumatic.
Let’s face it, we all have read articles, seen social media posts, and listened to those with degrees behind their name describe to us how to survive the holiday as if somehow we were powerless to decide for ourselves how we experienced life.
I readily acknowledge that sometimes we need support and that not everything has to be “reindeers and jingle bells.” However, we do have input into our own experience and can choose fulfillment this holiday season.
What are your expectations this holiday season? I’ve heard it said, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” My experience is that I find what I am looking for. If I am looking for a chaos-filled, anxiety provoking disappointment as I drink my eggnog while trying to avoid my in-laws, I most likely will find it.
So, finding an alternative sounds more inviting to me. I made the decision early this year to make a few changes in my holiday plan in effort to find a little “peace on earth.”
I will keep the first things first. I find chaos increases in my life when I lose sight of my core values. It is difficult to juggle life without something that centers us to reality. During this holiday season, look for opportunities to connect with those core values of family, honesty, empathy, and service. I’m committed to finding ways that my family and I can give to those who will never give to us in return.
To do this, I must dismantle the mental list of excuses in my head that only serve to cloud my vision from the things I know will bring balance in my life. I will need self-discipline and a plan; I will have to say “no” to some demands in order to say “yes” to my core values.
I will remain present for my family. When I reflect on my childhood holiday memories, only a few stand out as special—of those, all directly relate to simply being with my family. Sure I remember my first Atari and the time I spent hours playing on my first RC race track, but I will never forget years that we had little money to spend and the true presents were not under the tree but in the time we spent as a family.
I have early memories of being at my grandparents’ home with all the cousins. Memory after memory of just feeling connected during this season. The greatest gift I can give my children this year is the feeling of connection, the feeling of family, the feeling of home; in the end, these will far outweigh anything wrapped in a box.
I will choose to give the gift of compassion, especially to myself. Cut yourself some slack, perfection is overrated and usually way too expensive. This season brings an enormous amount of stress and tension without the need to accommodate the negative self-talk that comes from not maintaining boundaries between you and the expectations of others.
If I can increase my capacity for self-compassion, I can increase my capacity to show compassion to others. Part of my giving to others during this holiday season is learning to give to myself and tend to the inner need I have for compassion. I will affirm my worth as I celebrate the value of others.
I will keep it simple. I certainly expect that this year will be no different than years past and, in order to maximize my holiday season, I will need to set some firm boundaries between work and family time, be intentional about the experiences I create with my children, and take a few moments to sit and reflect on what makes this season special for me.
My hope for you is that you will find some balance and take the time to be kind to yourself. Merry Christmas and have a splendid New Year.
Benjamin Wood is a Clinical Therapist with Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services.