How to Get the Most out of the Holidays

Holidays are a time of warmth, connection and good cheer for many.  We gather around our loved ones in celebration of our most important relationships, enjoying good food and each other’s companionship.  But for others, the holidays are a challenging time, particularly if family connections are nonexistent or painful or there are still raw wounds around the loss of a loved one.

Regardless of what the holidays mean for you, contemplate ways that you can make the most of them, so that whatever your situation, you can experience this time period in the best way possible.  Consider the following general situations and ways you can get the most out of them.

You have family and friends in which you plan to connect and it’s generally a positive experience.

If there are gobs of people surrounding you this time of year, it’s easy to miss real, deeper, felt connection.  In your points of contact, really savor the moment with each and every person.  Be present with them, make good eye contact and notice your gratitude of the experience.  If you live life in a blur you can miss very important moments.  People often get stressed around holiday prep and in this haze can neglect slowing down just enough to truly “be” with the people you love.  The holidays offer an excellent opportunity to truly take in the good, which if reflected upon enough can have very positive effects on your brain.

The holidays are stressful because of less than idyllic family get togethers possibly involving conflict, unresolved issues, substance abuse and possibly emotional pain.

If you are dreading your annual holiday gatherings, this can cause a lot of anticipatory worry and unease about the events to come.  Make a plan for how you will handle difficult situations if they arise.  Set boundaries for yourself and stay committed to self-care in ways that work for you.  If things get heated, avoid getting pulled into the vortex by politely excusing yourself and stepping outside for a few deep breaths of fresh air.  Or go for a short walk.  People often regress to prior dysfunctional dynamics and roles when with family and it’s important to remember you have a choice.  If it really gets bad, you can leave.  If there is a lot of negativity it can be easy to miss the good that exists somewhere.  Don’t let your negativity bias keep you from noticing things that are positive like special connections with particular people outside of the problematic dynamic and the places in your area where the beauty of the holidays are visible.  Let the positive in.

You are alone and don’t have any family to be with over the holidays and this time is a painful reminder of your isolation.

Loneliness is practically an epidemic of sorts in our country.  Disconnection and not feeling a “part of” can be very distressing for us, being that we are wired to connect.  Remember that family is what you make it and doesn’t necessarily need to be of blood or in name.  Seek family in your friendships.  Build a community of support with people who care about you.  Whether you have recently moved or struggle to present yourself to others for possible connection, make an effort to find others you can relate to.  There are meet-up groups created just for this in many communities.  There are many others out there like you but you must put yourself out there.  If this is too difficult for you, consider counseling to free yourself from whatever blocks you.  As mentioned above, notice what is good and makes you feel good, though it might be hard to find.  Practice self-care in the ways that have meaning for you.

You are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Grief has many faces and is without real definition as it’s a multi-faceted response to loss, with no real expected timetable for its duration.  The holidays can be incredibly painful for those who are still in the process and stages of grief.  This is another area where getting support is crucial.  Whether it’s family, friends, or your faith, it’s helpful to be able to lean on something or someone.  The holidays are triggers for many who are grieving so you might see if you can find a support group in your area.  You might find a charitable organization to help someone else as a way to bring about positive emotions associated with altruism.  Be gentle with yourself in your process.  Do things that feel good and are soothing.  If you feel lost in your grief or stuck in a sense of mourning, it might be what is called “complicated grief” and this is another place where counseling might serve well.

No matter what meaning you currently attach to the holidays, be mindful of how can do them in the best way possible for you.  If it’s positive and heart warming, consider yourself fortunate and reflect upon the notion that this is not so for everyone.  If this time is a struggle, keep your focus on what you need to do to take care of YOU.  You do not need to go through it alone.

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