Managing Emotions During the Holidays

It is a time for delighting in lights and decorations, family and friends, giving and serving, feasting, and a little break from our regular life.

On the other hand, holidays can mean stress or sadness. Maybe you’re happy to see your family, but you can’t seem to help arguing with your parents about your life, and feeling like you’re 16 again. Or perhaps someone special is missing for the first time this year. 

How do we move through with mixed emotions?

Experts tell us to embrace parts of the holidays we love and do away with those we don’t. Give yourself permission to not shop, send cards, or live in the kitchen. This will help you avoid feeling defeated because you ran out of time or money to do it all, and you will have more time and space to do the things you feel strongly about this year. 

Lauren McAndrews was a case manager for Child Protective Services for ten years, and has experience with families in crisis. She says, “Try not to expect the perfect holiday, perfect dinner, or perfect family; enjoy the moment. It’s easy to remember the best versions of past celebrations and expect they should always be duplicated. Life is not a Hallmark movie, and living in the present will help you avoid reverting to old patterns. Maybe include someone in your gatherings who knows you only in the ‘now’, so you can stay grounded in your best ‘today’ self.”

Eve Eschner Hogan is a relationship specialist, and author of several books. She writes, “Be merry for someone else. If you aren’t able to be with people you’re missing, reach out to help others.” Get creative about it, and plan early. Many places require background checks, and shelters are often rich with volunteers on holidays. Why not make cards for people in senior living, deployed, or even in prison? 

If you do want to spend time with people, it’s helpful to create an escape plan. Drive yourself to holiday parties or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Knowing you can easily leave any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.

Don’t Forget the Children

Holidays are filled with childish excitement, but some children may have difficulty with deviations from their normal routines. Heather Moeller, LPC, LSSP is the Social, Emotional, Learning and Mental Health Specialist for GISD and she says the important thing is planning. 

“Parents should be mindful of what they know of their kids; what makes them comfortable and which things pose challenges. If you know you’re going into something that may be stressful, have those conversations in advance to prepare for some self-care; i.e., support for one’s self, options.” 

Heather recommends having a signal or encouraging children to speak up when they need a nap, or a quiet place to withdraw and color, or decompress in some way. “It’s also vital that we validate the feelings our kiddos have. They are always told be behave and be polite, but they need to know it’s okay if they don’t enjoy particular activities as expected; being out of sorts around large crowds, or being hugged by a lot of people they don’t see very often.” 

Experts agree a lot of it boils down to recognizing holiday triggers, such as money worries or personal demands, so they can be dealt with before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, everyone can find peace and joy during the holidays.

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