I loooove the holidays. But that doesn’t make the lead-up any less of a bitch. The older I get, the more I find how unforgiving this season can be. When I was a little girl, I never understood why some of the grown-ups in my life seemed to dread it so much.
An English professor once told me that the biggest theme of my life is trying to resist disillusionment even though the world makes no effort to hide what an ugly, unfair place it can be. Call me melodramatic, but is there any better way to describe the typical struggle we face when it comes to getting through the holidays? On the surface, it’s a happy, cheerful time of year. We want to enjoy it, but on the other hand, it’s pretty damn treacherous. Spending time in close quarters with family members that you only see once a year is stressful. So is the pressure to pick out the perfect gifts, to be a great hostess, and to somehow make your bank account survive it all.
Around this time, we tend to assess where we are in life compared to last year and often hold ourselves to impossible standards. It’s all about scrambling to have everything ready in time; in the name of “giving,” we trample one another at the mall, cut each other off in traffic, and just generally behave like assholes. As our own personal stress mounts, we take it out on the people closest to us, and pretty soon it’s easy to get swept up in a vicious cycle of nastiness. It’s temping to curl up in a ball and just hide out until mid-January, but we deserve to enjoy the season. Here are some tips to help ward off your Grinch-like tendencies when they make their way to the surface this December.
- Remember that whatever crankiness you’re up against, it’s not personal. People who are grumpy or accusatory towards you are not actually angry at you, no matter how much it may seem that way. Instead, they’re angry at some other circumstance and are probably subconsciously trying to make up for some kind of love or support they feel they haven’t gotten in life. Does this make it okay that they’re taking it out on you? Absolutely not, but it does make it easier to have some empathy when some yahoo shoves you in line at the post office or when your uncle makes a weird comment about your appearance at Christmas dinner. When you know it’s not personal, you’re less likely to have your feelings hurt and spread that winter blues to others.
- On that note, it’s helpful to remember that what frustrates you most about someone is a mirror to what frustrates you about yourself. If your brother’s materialism when it comes to holiday gifts drives you crazy, it might be a prompt to re-examine your own views on materialism. This offers a way to learn what may push you to be cranky and stop it before it goes further.
- Gratitude will always make your mood a little bit better. If I’m in a particularly vulnerable mood, one thought about something that I feel like I’m lacking in life will snowball into a “my life is terrible” (spoiler alert: it’s not) emotional tailspin. This time of year, with all of its emphasis on shopping, can sometimes be way more about dividing people into “haves” and “have nots” than the whole “spirit of giving” rhetoric would suggest. The fact of the matter is that even when things feel like a huge mess or you have a tendency to worry and overthink like I do, there are so many things to be thankful for. If this sounds too corny or if it feels like you have nothing to be grateful for right now, start with the small things. You’re reading this on a computer, aren’t you? You have access to the Internet and that’s certainly something to be thankful for. You probably ate breakfast today, too. That’s also pretty awesome: it means you probably know where your meals will be coming from today. I don’t mean to lead a First World guilt trip over here. Instead, I’m hoping you feel the opposite. It’s such a humbling rush when you’re able to put into perspective just how much you have and what you have is a lot more than you think. Gratitude journals might be cliched, but they’re such a simple fix when it comes to creating some extra happiness when the rest of your life is stressful and frenzied.
- Take note of the joyous little things that surround you. The twinkly lights, the ribbons, the smell of pine and the fluffy snowflakes that mark the season are enough to brighten anyone’s mood, even if it’s just a little. All the holiday aesthetics will be gone next month, so relish in how beautiful they are while you can.
- Is anything more insecurity-making than the holiday season? (Well, maybe wedding season, but that’s another post for another day.) With the extra pressure added to your already-tough regular routine, you may find yourself doubting your choices and your sense of self in ways you never would during less stressful times. Try to make a list of all the concrete, factual reasons you’re awesome or things you’ve accomplished this year. They don’t have to be big things – maybe you finally learned how to poach an egg this fall! Everything is a step forward. Making a list like this might feel self-conscious or silly in the moment, but knowing that there’s a physical, indisputable list of great things about you helps ward off irrational anxieties.
- Remove yourself from the drama. This one can be hard, but passive-aggression thrives on this time of year and the only way to “win” when confronting someone in that kind of mood is to refuse to engage in it. Be polite, be firm, and step out of the way until the other person calms down. It’ll be worth it, and you won’t feel like you’re full of poison for the rest of the night. What a novel concept! (And remind yourself that everyone, yes, everyone, has family drama.)
- Get some perspective. Trust me, nothing’s as big a deal as it feels right now. Every emotion is magnified during the holidays. I’ve always been told that “everything feels worse at night.” Could that be any more true? At night, the world feels like darker and colder, both literally and figuratively. Most problems are easier to tackle in the morning. With it getting dark so early this time of year and the holiday rush being what it is, stress feels compounded. This sounds a bit dramatic, but think of the holidays as “nighttime” and try not to feed into too many negative thoughts right now. When this emotionally charged season ends (and spring is coming!), things that once felt like a big deal might feel insignificant.
- You know that moment when your sister’s face lights up as she opens a gift from you? That can make all the stress worth it. No matter who you’re spending the holidays with, the most gratifying part of the season is to simply enjoy being together. It’s not easy, especially when opinions can clash and we can be the meanest to the people we love the most. But life is always changing, and this exact moment will never exist again. One day, what you might consider in the moment to be a pretty mediocre 2013 holiday will become a cherished memory. Soak up your time with the people you love and appreciate as much of it as you can. You can bet that 20 years from now, life will have evolved into something totally different and you’ll be willing to give just about anything to relive one ordinary, stressful, imperfect moment from this year with the people you love.