All Is Not Always Merry and Bright: Tips for Balance and Resilience at the Holidays

My family and I just finished watching the new Dr. Seuss's The Grinch. The depth of the story line was lost on my girls, but I could see both the overt loneliness of the Grinch as well as the absence of a father/husband figure in Cindy Lou Who's life. Regardless of how you want to interpret that absence, it is interesting to note that the family still moves forth in gathering. Still shares love. Still invites the Grinch at the end, and there is a great moral to all of it. I cannot help but picture Cindy Lou's mom stealing three minutes to herself in her closet before the guests arrive. Is she grieving from a divorce or death? She doesn't show any of that so much as exhaustion from the daily grind of being a single, working mother to three children. Even in the happiest place on earth, Whoville.  I am in awe of her strength, grace, and the way she loves her children and continues through the stress with grace. Her character prompted me to reflect upon my own struggles during the holiday season, and I bet many readers can relate.  

The holiday season can bring on added stress, anxiety, and for many of us, depression. From a very honest place, I will tell you that I can go from singing carols jovially to barely breathing from the pain of a memory invoked by that very song in the same minute. While I am fortunate to have a large family and love surrounding us on both sides, I feel the loss from my cousin and brother who both passed in the months of December during the holidays. And I don't think that will ever change. And I know it's normal to feel this sadness. I also know acknowledging these facts is half the battle to moving past it.

Loss and it's impact are challenges that many face at holiday gathering season, but there are others as well. Many of us feel the pressures of the holiday season from a variety of angles. including stresses due to increase in social gatherings, added tasks of shopping for the exact right items for everyone, baking, cleaning, decorating, and ensuring our kids have magical childhood experiences. All of these can be considered both blessings and burdens. 

So, I figured I would compile a list of tips that can help us all to create more balance and help us be more resilient during this blessed and busy season.

Acknowledge the Feelings: Whether you are feeling stress from all the added pressures, loneliness from a loss, or sadness over a change in tradition, it has to be critical to speak life to the issue. When we suppress our feelings, they can well up and explode out in ways that are unproductive at best and outright harmful at worst. I know from experience that we can also turn to coping strategies that can sneak up on us if we don't face the feelings in productive ways. 

Plan Ahead: With all the extra that comes with the upcoming season, consider how you can plan for added tasks such as shopping, baking, organizing events, etc. Time goes by so fast during these weeks, so set some firm deadlines for yourself to complete tasks. Create a monthly goal with action steps, considering using one word to guide how you want the next month and half through New Year's Day to go. Establish a weekly completion goal for personal as well as professional obligations so that you do not lose sight of either of them. Check in every Sunday on your progress so that the time doesn't sneak up on you. While the demands from our personal lives increase, it is important to acknowledge that they can ramp up at work too. Keep this all at bay by being mindful about your calendar and goals. 

Stick to a Budget: Be fair to your finances and keep your commitments now so that you aren't tempted by those last minute deals. It is easy to be swayed by the need to give endlessly during this time of year, but that added stress helps nobody. Consider what you can do for others that can be lower cost and meaningful. Service to others can have a large impact without hitting your bottom line too hard. 

Take Time for Self-Care: Simply building in what are called circuit breakers can be a major game changer throughout the year, but especially during this time with added commitments. Create segments of 15-20 minute blocks of time that are just for you each day and do not fail to keep them. Whether this is a brisk walk during lunch, silence before the house wakes up, or meditation before you go to bed, find some time to decrease the noise around you. 

Manage Expectations: Though this time of year can be very magical, maybe you are facing particularly challenging differences. We can get so caught up in tradition that it can be hard when they change. Consider visualizing alternatives to what it used to be while allowing for the outcome to be better than you expect. 

Be Wiling to Ask for Help and to Receive It: Though there are some superheros out there, it is important to understand that even they need help from an ally or two from time to time. Be willing to allow others to bring food to the gathering, for your spouse to take on some of the load you traditionally carry, to ask for someone to take the kids so you can wrap presents, bake, or clean.

Focus on Giving/Service to Others: Helping others always boosts our own spirit. Consider gifting time to a local cause, bring in items to a local food pantry, humane society, or be strategic about multiple acts of kindness throughout the month. We have begun to make this a family tradition, and the thrill of helping others is so boosting to the spirit that I look forward to these activities more than anything else. They can cost nothing, but add a great amount of value to your life. 

For those of you in education, consider how all of these challenges can be impacting your students and staff. Maybe none of this post resonated with you because you do nothing but thrive through this season. Please know that is not the case for all families. I shared my struggles, and I acknowledge they are minor in comparison to many families who cannot provide the experiences that I still can even on a tighter budget this year. 

Some people have a background like the Grinch of perpetual loneliness. No family. Little love. Little light. Let's make sure we commit to taking care of ourselves so that we can be that light to those who need it the most. Let's learn from Cindy Lou Who and her courageous mother. 


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