5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving!) During the Holiday Season

Let’s face it: those Hallmark movies and our holiday Spotify playlists are full of crap. They paint a picture of a holiday season that does not include the stress, traffic, and costs that we KNOW is a major part of adulthood during the months leading up to New Year’s. More importantly, Mariah Carey has not (yet) released a Christmas song about the arguments we get into with our parents at the dinner table nor has there been an animated holiday movie about relearning how to coexist with our siblings after moving out. Until then, you may ask yourself, “How do I get through the holiday season (without pulling my own hair out)?” Here are 5 tips to surviving the holiday season, and maybe even finding enjoyment in it:

1. Let go of expectations around what the holidays “should” look like.

As we grow older and enter adulthood, our holiday traditions tend to change. While some shifts can be difficult to notice, other changes to our celebrations can evoke a painful sense of loss when we compare it to the fond memories that we may hold about past holidays. By entering a new holiday season with curiosity instead of a set idea in mind about what your celebrations might look like, you may be more likely to avoid disappointment if your expectations are not met.

2. Ask yourself, “How old do I feel in this moment?”

While the holiday season can bring out the inner child in all of us, it also risks us regressing and slipping back into old patterns that no longer serve us. Especially when we return to our childhood home and/or reunite with our caregivers or siblings. Stress or conflict that might usually be easily resolved suddenly feels big and more difficult to ignore. The tone-deaf joke made by your uncle at the dinner table is not as easily dismissed. The minor inconvenience from earlier in the day continues to reside somewhere in your body hours later. It may be helpful to ask yourself the question, “How old do I feel in the moment” to help identify whether you have regressed back to a time where you felt like you had less control, power, and agency. Perhaps your inner child is trying to get your attention and voice an unmet need. Recognizing when you feel younger than you actually are during times of stress or conflict can be a powerful reminder of how much you have changed as an adult. This recognition can offer you an opportunity to make a different choice in how you react or respond to conflict.

3. Recognize that your parents/caregivers/loved ones may expect to have the same kind of relationship with you.

With that being said, not everyone is going to be on board with you flexing your newfound independence. Parents, caregivers, and/or loved ones who have grown accustomed to interacting with you in a certain way may not recognize the changes that you see in yourself. It can feel frustrating to feel like you are still seen as a child even after taking on “adult” responsibilities. While you may be unable to change your relationship you have with your loved ones within the span of one visit, holding the awareness that this relational adjustment will take time will hopefully allow those negative feelings to take up less space.

4. Plan an escape route.

All the boundary setting in the world cannot prevent conflict and frustration with 100% accuracy. Eventually, your patience will run out and you will feel yourself transform into the Grinch. Before you force your pet into becoming your accomplice in stealing Christmas, it might be more productive for you to remove yourself from a stressful situation instead. Think about all the times as a child when you were stuck in an uncomfortable position without the power to do anything about it. Now, you have the power to take a walk without adult supervision. You can drive yourself, take the bus or take an Uber/Lyft to visit a friend. You can spend time with your siblings outside of the home. Giving yourself “time-outs” to take a break from stressful family dynamics or holiday pressures can do wonders in helping you get through the holiday season without having to resort to Grinch-like tactics.

5. Add gratitude to your coping skills toolbox.

Depending on the kind of relationship you have with your loved ones or the holiday season in general, strong negative feelings can sour an already challenging experience for you. While the deep breathing, meditation, journaling, and other coping skills (that you learned from the CWC, right?) will help you survive a stressful holiday season, you might need an extra boost to thrive. Practicing gratitude to recognize the things you do like about winter break or the holiday season allows you to create space for joy. This is not to say that the negative feelings and challenges will no longer be present. Rather, embracing the duality of the good and less good parts of the holidays can be helpful in returning from winter break feeling fulfilled and rejuvenated (or at least less burnt out).

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to spend winter break. The holiday season can be more complicated than the movies and music lead us to believe. Give yourself permission to celebrate in ways that align with your needs. Even if that means starting new traditions. Whatever your winter break looks like, you are deserving of rest, validation, and joy. Happy Holidays, Gators!

This article was written by Adrian M. Valadez, MS.