Navigating Holiday Expectations

As the holidays are upon us, this is what I’ve heard the past several weeks from my clients:

Even though this is one of my favorite times of the year, I’m struggling.” 

“I’m dreading so many conversations.” 

“I can feel this overwhelming weight of anxiety wash over me.” 

“I’m just done. And I’m so tired…”

Can you relate? 

At the very least, I imagine you are tired. Not only from the holiday bustle, but tired of worrying, coming up with Plan B or C, and feeling overwhelmed by decision fatigue as we head into a third year of pandemic life. 

Know you are not alone, my friend. 

Navigating the holidays often requires a lot of grace and grit, but in times such as these, we all need an extra measure of grace, grit, resilience, patience, and compassion

So I wanted to offer some H.O.L.I.D.A.Y best practices to serve as a reminder to you and yours.

Honor grief and loss. 

Whether it’s loss of a loved one, loss of connection, or loss of routine and normalcy — all loss needs to be acknowledged. Remember that while loss is always with you, there are varying intensities of grief.

(Feelings are impermanent.) 

Own your expectations. 

Expectations are elevated during the holidays because of family rituals and assumptions about how the holidays are “supposed to be.” A key to managing expectations is to understand what you have control over and what you can’t control. Research shows that if you have low expectations for things out of your control and realistic expectations for things you can control, you fare better. When expectations are unrealistically high, they can be the basis for disappointment

Lean into community. 

Whether you will be gathered with many or having quiet holidays, I’d encourage you to think about nurturing deep, meaningful bonds with others. Is there someone you can reach out to and go for a walk or hike with? Perhaps think about going to church, attending a group, or volunteering with others at your local Food Bank. Take advantage, too, of other ways to connect, including sending out holiday cards and communicating with family and friends by phone, text, email, and social media. We were created for connection!

Identify fears. 

What are you worried about over the holiday season? What is stressing you out? What might you be avoiding or running from (either actively or passively)? When you identify your fears, they have less power over you. So name them and see them for what they are. Bring them to the light, because once they’re no longer in the dark, they’re not as powerful or frightening anymore. Awareness is key and the first step to change!

Direct your attention. 

There is SO much competing for your heart and mind and demanding your attention. Distractions are endless and can easily derail us. Research shows that what is important doesn’t necessarily get your attention, but what gets your attention becomes important. So I’d challenge you to think now about where you’re going to direct your attention this holiday season. Because what you attend to shapes how you show up at the dinner table, at work, in your home, with your friends. When you decide to attend to something – you are present to it!

Accept where you are at. 

Here we are, December 2021, still navigating COVID 19. Some of you have found your rhythm and groove; some of you are weary of juggling too much for too long. Perhaps you’re somewhere in between those two places. Wherever you are emotionally, it’s okay. Accept it, as that’s the starting point.

Acceptance is taking stock of the situation — your feelings and emotions surrounding it — and seeing it clearly for what it is, opening up to it, feeling it deeply. When you are able to acknowledge and accept your feelings, you can then begin to work towards productive action and change, choosing how you want to move forward and get where you want to go. (Acceptance does not mean you have to like it. Not at all. But it does mean you can’t run or avoid!) 

Yearn for gratitude. 

When you intentionally see the goodsavor the good, and share the good, you fare better in life. Here are some research-backed examples: you have more positive emotions of joy and happiness, less negative emotions of depression and anxiety, you sleep more soundly, exercise more, have a stronger immune response, are more alert and focused, more creative, more altruistic, feel more hopeful, peaceful, and compassionate, and have healthier relationships! WOW! Oh – and when you focus on being thankful, you are more able to demonstrate patience (which if you’re anything like me, you’ve needed extra doses of patience in this season)! 

Yearn for and practice gratitude, my friends. It will help.

Share stories with one another. 

Stories foster connection. They have the ability to be both mirrors, showing you more clearly who you are, and windows, offering a glimpse into another. Stories also raise your awareness, help you clarify, reaffirm, and share your values, and can be healing for yourself and others. Whether it’s stories of frustrations and hardships or anticipations and joys, stories bind us. They “make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” – Madeleine L’Engle

May you gift yourself and others with the courageous and vulnerable act of showing up honestly — wherever you are at — and with hope, gratitude, and presence!

~Dr. Andrea Gurney

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