WINTER IS COMING: 5 Tips to Help You Make the Best of this Holiday Season

I love this time of year! I don’t know about you, but the holidays are probably my favorite time of year. There are a lot of reasons for that. First of all, even though I live in Oklahoma, I grew up in Missouri, where it didn’t get quite so hot in the summer, and our winters felt more like winter because of the snow. So, living in Oklahoma, my goal is simply to survive the heat of the summer months. I feel so much better when fall rolls around. I absolutely LOVE the autumn season. It’s so much cooler and I feel like I can breathe again! But that’s not the only reason; it’s also the time of year that marks the beginning of “the holiday season.”

In some ways, I have come to view the holidays as kind of like the “evening time” of the year. You know how some people go to work all day, and then they get to come home and be with their family or friends, which refreshes them for the next day? That’s how I view this time of year. I stay busy toiling and laboring all year long, now I am able to relax a little by getting together with my family and doing those special things that we only get to do during “the holidays,” like traveling to see family and working 1000 piece puzzles we got from thrift stores (it’s always fun to see which pieces are missing). My family plays a card game called “Oklahoma,” that has been passed down in our family for decades. I’ve never been able to find it, or anything like it in any book on card games. And, of course, we EAT. I won’t waste more space here about that. Just suffice it to say that I love holiday food – a LOT!!

I know that the holiday season doesn’t generate warm fuzzy feelings for everyone; and, frankly, it might not always be that way for me either.

Currently, for me, the holidays are a happy time. I love my family; I love my wife’s family; and I truly look forward to seeing them during the holidays. I’m extremely grateful for the relative amounts of peace and joy my family experiences. Oh, sure we have our troubles, but nothing terribly big or disruptive at the moment. But, some people (maybe you) dread the holidays; and they usually have a lot of good reasons for that. As a marriage & family therapist, I know that it’s within the context of family that we can experience some of the deepest joys and comfort. But, it can be within that same context where some of our greatest pains and sorrows are experienced and harbored. So, if this is you, keeping the holiday season “merry and bright” might be a stretch. For you, your goal might simply be to survive.

So, as you begin to experience the holiday season, here are some tips to help you make your season as “merry and bright” as you possibly can:

Leave room for everyone’s different personality styles. Some people need a plan. And others would just rather “fly by the seat of their pants”. Some naturally take charge, and some hang back and go with the flow. I tend to be the latter. I’m more laid back and see how things progress. My wife is more of a planner. To keep peace around the holidays, I sometimes have to get with the program and learn how to make more of a plan. However, my wife understands that, while she would like to have a basic plan in place, she, at times, needs to be more flexible as holiday events tend to be chaotic and unpredictable.

Choose your battles. Conflict is multi-faceted and fluid, which means it can get out of control and become very unproductive in a hurry. It’s important to be able to recognize when someone has pushed your buttons. But it’s our job to decide if it’s worth bringing up right then, or if it can be “tabled” and brought up at a later date. A lot of people say it’s not good to bottle up your feelings. And in general I agree with that. But in certain contexts, it’s a great skill to be able to hold off on things until you’re able to calm down and figure out what it was that pushed your buttons. Only then will you be better equipped to handle the issue in a way that is more likely to prove effective. Usually, confronting someone around the Thanksgiving table is neither the time nor the place. So, in a nutshell, manage your reactions by a) recognizing them, b) hitting the pause button, and c) saving it for a different place at a different time.

Budget. This might be coming a little late for this holiday season, but it’s pretty important. I remember listening to Dave Ramsey joke about the fact that people are so surprised when Christmas comes and they have to spend so much money on travel, food, and presents. We all seem to forget that it comes the same time every year. Well, I forget too. And nobody wants to check the mail sometime in January and find a huge credit card bill to pay off from the trips to the mall and the grocery store. Don’t just slap down the plastic and hope in vain that it will just “all work out” by magic. Put money aside during the year just for this. If not this year, then begin next year.

Manage your expectations. Like I said before, I look forward to the holidays every year, and I can unfortunately build up some unrealistic expectations. Things will go wrong, and things might not look or feel like I expected. I have visions of Christmas morning that include snow on the ground, a fire in the fireplace, and a 50 gallon drum of Braum’s eggnog. The fireplace thing might actually happen, but I might have to make my eggnog and snow expectations a little more realistic. Some go into the holidays with very low expectations. Past hurts and even traumas can come back to life around Thanksgiving and Christmas and it’s hard to look forward to this time of year. And a lot of people dread the holidays because money is tight, and they can’t afford to do a lot of the special things that others get to do. And for others, loneliness is a big issue, and the holidays bring that out even more. I’m reminded of a song I heard, called “Christmas at Denny’s”, by Randy Stonehill that deals with this very thing. It vividly tells the stories of some of these situations. So, during this season, allow yourself to vision how you would like it to go, but then let go of the final results. And if you are dealing with more sadness than cheer, allow yourself to make room for that emotion as well. Surround yourself around people that will allow you feel what you feel, even if that feeling isn’t reflective of “holiday cheer.”

Find ways to serve. There are all sorts of ways to serve others during the holidays. It might be through an organization, like your church or the City Mission. Or it might just be helping out a neighbor or friend who doesn’t have family around. Maybe you can make the holidays a happy time for someone who might otherwise see it as the hardest time of year. It might seem awkward at first, but it is very rewarding. For me, this is truly the spirit of the season.

I know everyone experiences the holidays differently. I know people can experience extreme joy, extreme sadness, and everywhere in between. Regardless of where you fall, I hope you have found something in these “tips” that you can apply or improve on to make your season just a bit more joyful and bright. However, if you are one that tends to experience extreme sadness and gloom, please don’t let another holiday season go by sitting alone in your grief and distress. I implore you to seek out professional to help so you can get to a place where you can experience at least some semblance of peace. If I had it my way, then this holiday we’d all have 3 feet of snow, all the eggnog our hearts desire, and more love and joy than we have EVER known!

~ Matt Stevenson, LMFT

Posted in