By: Lali Herrera
I want to start by taking a moment to normalize how difficult the holidays are for most of us. The holiday season is a time of such a mix of emotions, memories, and traumas that resurface for us. When we were children the holiday season might have had aspects of a cheerful time… I mean, we were off from school! What a time to rejoice!! On top of being out of school we would get presents & toys, and got to eat sweets and bake cookies. The years of family stressors & complex trauma had not sunk into our child minds yet.
I can vividly remember decorating Christmas cookies with my sister, sneaking bits of icing along the way—we were having a blast! We were accompanied with the background noise of my parents viciously arguing with one another. To this day this memory brings me right back into a state of stress, but also a sense of joy (and a craving for sugar cookies!)
Some of us experienced this mixed bag of joy and stressors. Year after year the confusing experiences accumulated. When we got older and moved out/went to college, coming home had a different flavor because we got to experience what life was like outside of the home. Maybe we didn’t always want to go home for the holidays.. but your family insisted: “what are you going to do being the only kid on campus?”
Nowadays, after graduating college and starting a professional job, holidays might have become more of a stressor than anything else. The amount of guilt and discomfort around returning home for this time of year has become sadly normalized among many families.
The holiday season puts SO much pressure on these expectations that we are “supposed” to adhere to. Some expectation is that we see are to:
-Take time off from work, by using our limited sick and vacation days to travel, and go back to stressful family settings.
-Spend excessive money on gifts.
-Ignore our boundaries & all the work we’ve done in therapy aside to please our families.
You are not alone in experiencing this distress. Collectively, we are all feeling this in our own ways.
I want to invite you to take a moment to step away from the chaos and show yourself some extra love this holiday season. This can be done in small ways—we do not always need to spend 7 hours at a spa for mind & body to know that you love them!
If you are unsure how you wish to do that, here are 4 simple ways to help ease the challenges:
- Ground Yourself: Do this BEFORE the family gathering, that way you are more regulated when the stressful situation happens. You’ll see how much better you handle it.
- Step Away (in real time): When you feel emotionally activated, don’t sit there and fake it! Show yourself the compassion you deserve by stepping away in the moment.
o Example: go to the bathroom and practice a grounding technique from #1 above.
- Set Personal Boundaries: Assess your limits before the family gathers, and stick with them!!
o Example: Asses how much time, energy, and money are you willing to put towards this gathering? How much alcohol do you want to drink tonight?
- Set Boundaries: Communicate your limits to your loved ones. Practice saying “no” and discuss with your therapist how you’d like to set boundaries.
o Example: “I’m not comfortable discussing this right now, can we please change the subject?”
Always remember that a “no” to them is a sacred “yes” to you.
You got this!!!