23 tips to get through the holidays

special to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, November 2017

by Billie Wade

Billie Wade, writer

Fall is a time for bold colors, mild temperatures, much-needed rain, football, and the beginning of the Big Three holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; and, New Year’s Eve. These powerful holidays fall so closely together on the calendar the time can feel like one overwhelming mega-holiday. The five-week holiday season starts in early November as we make preparations.

This time of year may send us careening through painful recollections. I remember family gatherings that didn’t unfold as planned and turned sour. Present-day circumstances can trigger years-old memories. We may be grieving someone who has passed on. Or we may be mourning the loss of family ties and traditions as children have grown up and moved away, or now celebrate with others or in ways that don’t include us. Our lived experience may be starkly different from what we’d hoped for ourselves.

I’m now in a sort of neutral zone where haunting memories aren’t as painful as in years past. With diligence, I work toward a place of acceptance and contentment. I will never arrive at these states once and for all, as they’re not destinations, but rather are parts of my journey. I don’t yet greet the holidays with unbridled enthusiasm. But, I do enjoy giving gifts. I do enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I do appreciate the messages of the season—sharing, gratitude, peace, wisdom, and expectancy.

The holidays carry different meanings for all of us. Some enjoy the festivities and the hum of life as people become busy with shopping and planning and cooking and wrapping and decorating. For some, they’re ordinary days on the calendar. Some face the days with dread and trepidation, preferring to go to bed November 1 and wake up January 1 just in time for the Tournament of Roses Parade. And, some have other wants and needs during the holiday season. Whatever this time means for you, honoring your feelings and life rhythms can ease the tension.

Getting through the holidays can be challenging, but these twenty-three strategies may help smooth the edges of stress:

  1. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
  2. Pamper yourself in whatever way works for you. The tiniest acts of self-love and self-compassion can be the most powerful. Get a massage, manicure, or pedicure.
  3. Take time for quiet celebration and reflection, with or without others.
  4. Take stock of the closing year, look for the lessons, and marvel at the wisdom you’ve gained.
  5. Try to approach the new year with joyful anticipation.
  6. Take an honest assessment of life as it is now and make plans for the new year. What does the coming year look like for you?
  7. Call a trusted friend or family member.
  8. Write out feelings in a journal or diary.
  9. See a counselor, minister, rabbi, priest, or spiritual director.
  10. Volunteer.
  11. Walk or exercise.
  12. Pray or meditate.
  13. Practice yoga or stretching exercises.
  14. Listen to soothing music.
  15. Read comforting books.
  16. Watch inspiring or funny movies.
  17. Let off steam, safely.
  18. Paint, color, or draw.
  19. Start new holiday traditions, rituals, and practices that nurture your spirit, with or without other people.
  20. Spend time with caring, supportive friends, especially sharing a meal, if possible and feasible.
  21. Honor the rhythms of your body—eat, sleep, rest, and exercise when you need to.
  22. Write a letter of gratitude, grief, anger, or apology whether or not you plan to send it.
  23. Address a holiday card to yourself, and mail If you wish, write a note inside the card that inspires and uplifts you.

These approaches may spark new ideas for you. You may want to spread out a practice over several days or weeks. Or, you may want to do something different every day, or every few days. The important consideration is to be your own best friend.

As we look toward the 2017 holiday season, I want to express my appreciation to Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for the support and encouragement I’ve received for writing these articles. I consider the opportunity to serve you an honor and a privilege.

The holidays hold the promise of beauty, wonder, and grace. May you find peace, comfort, and joy in the coming weeks and all of 2018.

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.

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