Okay, if we’re honest, it’s possible that “drama-free” and “holiday season” are simply two ideas that don’t go together! All the proverbial hustle and bustle, traveling, and splitting time between places are common. But lingering aspects of the pandemic, as well as possible loneliness and isolation that sometimes accompanies this time of year, might also be factors. What can you do to keep the season bright?
Maintain Reasonable Expectations for a Drama-Free Holiday Season
There’s a reason why the medical community releases “how to reduce stress during the holidays” tips—it’s easy to go overboard, whether you’re caught up in all the excitement, have too many family obligations, or simply have a lot going on. Stress management is a key component to mental and emotional health, especially if you’re in recovery from alcohol use or substance use disorder.
One of the top recommendations to keep the holidays drama-free is to have fewer expectations about what the season “should” be. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), few things contribute to stress more than ideas for a “perfect” holiday that don’t come to fruition. So here are its recommendations:
- Commercialism forces unrealistic expectations. So rein in your gift budget, and talk with children and other family members about more meaningful holiday aspects.
- If coordinating all the moving people and pieces into a small window of key celebrations is challenging, consider different types of gatherings, such as a post-Thanksgiving potluck where everyone brings leftovers, or Boxing Day (December 26) football in the park.
- It’s okay to not get everything done for or during the holidays. There will be time afterward. Now isn’t the time to remodel the kitchen.
- Even if you’re the type of person who loves everything about the holidays, you can’t give to others if your own tank is near empty. Experience the peace in the season with whatever brings you quiet joy, such as curling up with a book and a cup of hot cocoa, taking a walk in the woods, getting a massage, or some other meaningful self-care routine.
Table the Difficult Conversations for Now
Although you love your Uncle Tim, you know without a doubt that he’ll bring up politics and try to have a rousing debate. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with thoughtful discussion amidst the twinkling holiday lights, it’s quite possible that certain topics will only spark an atmosphere of anxiety, discord, and bad feelings.
VeryWellMind suggests that while key conversations are beneficial to shed light on critical issues and how they impact certain people, it’s better to have a framework in place on how to handle these topics. For example:
- Set conversation boundaries. Politics, race, religion, public health (such as pandemic vaccinations), and even the current status of your own health might come up over sweet potato pie. What do you do? “Setting boundaries with relatives may be new territory well worth the effort, so it may be best to let family know that their statements or questions are problematic and ask them to refrain from such violations,” the article states.
- Practice de-escalation tactics. Yes, this might be nifty to think about in theory, but harder to put into practice. Here are some ideas that might help to calm the fire of an incendiary conversation.
- Focus on family fun. If there are stories, memories, and traditions that help recenter attendees at holiday functions, steer in that direction, even for an hour or two. Photos, mementos, recipe cards, and other props might help.
- Suggest alternative topics. Perhaps at the start of the holiday meal, ask everyone to talk about what food they like best and why. Create a guessing game by quoting lines from holiday movies or songs. Encourage people to share details about their most memorable trip. Or try some of these open-ended conversation starters.
Finding New Ways to Belong
Not everyone has a stereotypical Hallmark holiday or family gathering to look forward to, and sometimes this creates valid feelings of isolation and loneliness. Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions for realistic yet enjoyable methods for handling this time of year:
- Accept what you’re feeling, whether it’s grief, loneliness, or depression, and make a concerted effort to work through it.
- Spending time in our own company is often healthy, but if you’re feeling isolated, seek connection through social events, community groups, or by reaching out to a special friend or family member for a get-together. Volunteering is also a great way to share purpose with others.
- Stay committed to your healthy habits, especially if you’re in recovery. Ask a sponsor, friend, or loved one to help keep you accountable.
- If there’s a relationship that could be better, don’t hesitate to make the first move toward a resolution. Have no expectations of the outcome, and focus on reconnecting.
We Can Help You Enjoy Your Drama-Free Holiday Season
Conversely, you don’t have to insert yourself into an unhealthy environment with drama that might trigger you. Trust that you have other ways of making the holiday enjoyable, including reframing the beauty of solitude.
At Cottonwood Tucson, we’re dedicated to helping you navigate the uncertain waters of life with strength and joy. And like a good medical center, we offer some additional holiday tips to help you live well. Please let us know if there are any other topics we can research for you.