The Push & Pull of the Holiday Season

December 7, 2019

Power struggle between men and woman with heart hawser

During the months of November and December, many clients feel the push and pull of the holiday season. They feel excited to make the trip home to visit their family of origin and are also dreading it. They’re relieved to have the opportunity to spend time with chosen family and simultaneously experiencing sadness. They’re looking forward to the upcoming celebrations that provide an opportunity to  ‘let one’s hair down’ while also feeling concerned about managing their indulgences. Often we can feel at the whim of these highs and lows and feel distressed. Here are some ways I work with clients to navigate the push and pull of the season.

Let’s Get Compassionate

I encourage all my clients to heap on an extra dose of self-compassion during this time of year. We are so often less patient, less forgiving, and more scrutinizing of ourselves than we are of those we care about. I work with my clients to encourage them to speak to themselves as they would speak to a dear friend. Often clients are able to recall a recent experience where they spoke kindly to a friend. With this practice, they are able to include themselves deserving of the same kindness they offer to others.

Disappointment is OK

“I don’t have time to even unpack before I have to get on a plane again!” “There’s not enough time to get it all done!” “I can’t afford everything my family wants this year. They’re going to be so disappointed in me.”

Every commercial, billboard, PTA announcement, and magazine encourages MORE during this time of year. More working, more spending, more consuming, more traveling, more family. It can be incredibly challenging to identify what is realistic to expect of oneself and from others during this time of year.  We can easily create the story that if we don’t do what is requested, others will be disappointed in us, which is different than feeling disappointed.

When we make ourselves responsible for other people’s feelings, we make those feelings something to fear or something to fix. We create stories that when we don’t deliver, others will think less of us, not reward us, not invite us again, or not give us that year-end bonus. Living in this story creates feelings of anxiety, self-doubt and resentment.

Let’s Get Realistic

A crucial piece of the remedy for these feelings of resentment, anxiety, and depression is to give oneself permission to set realistic expectations of others and of oneself. Accompanying this is the practice of tolerating feelings of disappointment as a normal part of the human experience. We won’t and can’t always get what we want. And that’s OK.

Let’s Set Up Our Boundaries and Support

Alongside setting realistic expectations is the crucial practice of setting healthy boundaries. This is tough, when we feel the expectation to say YES to everything. To set healthy boundaries, we have to be willing to identify what we want and what we don’t want for ourselves and from others. We also have to be willing to communicate those needs and wants others. Since none of this is easy, it’s important to establish a link to those we can reach to for empathy and support.

Feel the Love, Have Fun, and Spread the Joy

When we give ourselves permission to set boundaries and accept our capacities, we are practicing loving ourselves. We are sending ourselves the message that we are worth taking care of and that we are enough as we are.  When we practice loving ourselves, we feel less irritability and resentment and are more able to enjoy the celebrations that this holiday season brings.  This time of year may push and pull on us, but we have the power to implement the tools to regain control and embrace the JOY OF THE SEASON.

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About the author
Kathryn Grooms

Kathryn is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over twenty years of experience working with issues of substance abuse, trauma, sexuality, gender, mood disorders and anxiety. Kathryn is passionate about empowering her clients to navigate their unique journey of self-discovery and emotional healing.