We're all told how much fun the holidays can be; the celebrations, the family gatherings, the gifting. In reality, they can also be very stressful; the partying, the family dynamics, the shopping. How do you maintain your sanity while celebrating the season?
It's important to maintain your self care. A lot of us think because it's the holidays we should let ourselves go. We can let ourselves go, but is that the best option? What works to keep us sane on a normal day may be even more important during the holidays. We may need to be more vigilant of our self care rather than more lax. But what does that look like and how do we manage it while simultaneously searching for that perfect gift for Aunt Sue?
Examine your regular routine.
What do you do in an average week to take care of yourself? Eat healthy? Exercise? Hydrate? Hang out with friends? Attend a support group? Attend a yoga class? Go for a run? Practice meditation? Shoot some hoops? Keep your appointment with your therapist? Look at what you usually do to keep yourself sane, then think about how to maintain that during the holidays. You might have to practice a little self assertion and maintain healthy boundaries when people want to intrude or force their own agendas upon you, but having a clear idea of what your goals and priorities are will make it a lot easier to stick up for what's good for you.
Think about where the problems will be and figure out a strategy for overcoming them. One of the biggest problems with the holidays is feeling powerless. We have a lot of people and activities making demands upon our time. Take an inventory of what's important to you and where the problems are going to be, then make conscious choices about how to maintain what's important to you rather than just going along with everyone else's agenda. This way you can avoid feeling powerless and overwhelmed.
Have you gone along so long you have no idea where to start? Below are some ideas for things you might want to consider for keeping your sanity.
Maintain, Maintain, Maintain
The goal is to keep as many coping strategies in place as possible. What keeps you sane on a usual day? These are the same things which can help keep you on an even keel while simultaneously being swept all over town and, perhaps, all over the country. These are just a few ideas to get you started, but don't be limited by this list.
Maintain your diet.
This doesn't necessarily mean watching your calories. It means eating the way that makes you feel healthy and in top form. Lots of office parties? Figure out what you want to eat and bring a tray of it. A fresh fruit tray, hummus sampler with pita bread, fresh veggies, etc. Then you will be guaranteed of having something healthy to gnosh on rather than being at the mercy of holiday excesses.
Maintain your hydration.
Airplanes and alcohol spell dehydration. Combine that with high fat, sugary foods, extra caffeine and lack of sleep and hydration becomes even more important. Keep a water bottle with you and sip on it through your busy days. Choose a glass of water over sodas, teas or sugary drinks. Order a glass of water with your alcoholic beverage and alternate between the two. It will give you more energy and help you flush those extra toxins.
Maintain your workout.
Do you go to the gym? If you are traveling, find the local gyms and see where you can workout to maintain your workout schedule. Do you run or take walks? Look for local trails and pack your running or walking shoes. Bring your yoga mat or your meditation music.
Maintain your connections.
Who do you call when things get bumpy? Make sure you have those people in your Contacts list. Talk to them before the holidays to negotiate how to handle holiday 9-1-1 calls for emotional help. Find out who will be available and who won't and what will be the best way to communicate that you need some "therapy".
If your support comes from an AA group and you are traveling find the local chapter and make time to attend a meeting. This will keep you connected with the support system and ideas which keep you healthy on a normal day. Before the holidays, talk to your sponsor and other group members. Get phone numbers and email addresses. Ask what their rules are about contacting them during the holidays. Know who you can call on if you need a friendly voice.
If your support comes from a therapist find out what their rules are for getting help during the holidays. If your support comes from family or friends make sure you have their contact information. Take your laptop, make sure you have your phone, and pack their chargers!
Team up. Find people around you who are also motivated to maintain their sanity and self care. Does a cousin go to the gym too? Hook up with them to keep yourself motivated. Is a friend also trying to eat healthy? Stay close to them and find out what strategies they are using to insure they have healthy treats during the holidays.
Maintain connections with other people who are on the same page as you and support your healthy choices.
Maintain your coping stragies.
These can look very different for each one of us. An introvert may pack their earbuds, mp3 player and a good book so they can get some much needed peace and quiet away from the maddening crowds. An extrovert make need to be sure to pack the right clothes so they can attend all the parties in order to recharge their batteries. Know who you are and what feeds you, then make sure you have it with you. Pack your yoga mat, schedule time for your meditation, leave time to enjoy that good book, make sure to talk to that person who keeps you level headed.
Maintain your sleep patterns.
This may not be possible, but do your best. Jet lag, shopping, family visits and endless parties can take a serious toll on your sleep. Good sleep is usually about good rituals and good habits. A good workout is often a major factor in a good night's sleep for a lot of people. Many find that a nightly "going to bed" ritual helps them slow down and relax for a good night's sleep. Avoiding too much alcohol, heavy meals and caffeine late at night can also help. (Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but prohibits good REM sleep throughout the night leaving you less rested in the morning.) If getting a good night's sleep is problematic, consider a power nap during the afternoon. The Spanish siesta is actually a brilliant idea and can be especially helpful during the holidays.
Maintain your boundaries.
Hey, this wouldn't be an article by a therapist if I didn't mention boundaries, would it? Think ahead and determine what your limits are. Then, stick up for them. If you can't handle all seven parties you are invited to, figure out which ones are really important then make your apologies to the others. Don't try to be everywhere. And don't try to be everything to everyone. You have limits. Mom may want you to stay all week at her house, but if you usually find yourself considering murder after three days you might want to shorten your stay. Hint: three days seems to be the rule:
"Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days"
Maintain enough time.
You may be brilliant at scheduling your daily activities the rest of the year, yet become completely overwhelmed during the holidays. With everyone doing more shopping, traveling and socializing things often take much longer than usual. Underschedule. If something takes two hours, allow three. Schedule in some buffer time. So many people overschedule themselves, doing too many things in not enough time, and rage can be the result. People are pushing and shoving, getting impatient and taking out their frustrations on each other. Prioritize what is important and what is not. Then underschedule yourself. If you allow three hours for a two hour shopping trip, you won't begrudge that hour you have to sit and have a quiet cup of coffee. That traffic jam you get stuck in will not be such a tragedy if you allowed an extra hour for it. That delayed flight will not hijack your schedule if you scheduled in an extra long layover. Once you factor in the extra time, plan for what you might do with that extra time so you are not "stuck" somewhere with nothing to do. Pack a book. Take your music. Have your phone so you can check in with a friend for a "sanity check". Few people complain of having too much time this time of year.
Maintain your sense of humor.
Find the humor in situations. Stay close to people who have a good sense of humor and take things in stride. If laughing things off is difficult for you, steal someone else's. Go to a funny movie, check out videos on YouTube or take along David Sedaris.
The holidays can be a time of celebration and family. But it's important to keep in place those things which keep you sane the rest of the year at the same time. Breathe deep, be aware and plan ahead and the holidays can be a festive time instead of a stressful time.