This time of year can bring many mixed emotions. It is often full of frequent gatherings of family, friends & colleagues, which can come with ups and downs. Making time for seeing everyone and attending or hosting events, and financial stressors alongside preparing for Christmas itself (if you celebrate Christmas), thrown in with all of your usual daily responsibilities can become extremely overwhelming for families. Below I've listed 4 tips to help you cope with what is overwhelming you this holiday season: Setting limits, asserting yourself, respecting your boundaries and prioritizing self-care.
What limits do you need to set, and with whom? All of the extra family time might come with consequences - it is not unusual for people to have longstanding issues within their family of origin or in-laws. Do you find yourself getting triggered over and over again by certain members of your family (or in-laws)? It might be time to consider setting some limits with them to help maintain your own sanity and to preserve the relationship.
Limit-setting can also include looking at the bigger picture, prioritizing and setting limits internally. What will you choose to react to over this intense time of year? What supports do you need to put in place for yourself to help yourself with setting your internal limits and sticking to them? Is food or alcohol a trigger for you? Do you need to be conscious of the amount of physical time you spend around specific people or places? Do you need to let go of some perfectionist ideals and give yourself permission to do less? Do you need to discuss expectations of gift-giving with others? Becoming aware of unhealthy coping strategies that might amplify a bad situation and replacing these with supportive and healthy coping skills has a big impact on how you feel.
Once you decide what limits you need to set with people, you need to communicate these boundaries clearly to the people you are setting them with. Do you need to decline some invitations or say no to hosting houseguests? Do you need to ask for help? Do you need to support yourself by standing up for yourself when you are criticized again by that same family member for the same thing they talk about every year? This might not seem like the right time to face big issues head-on, but you might be able to start taking small steps to support yourself. If you dread the holidays because you don't get treated respectfully by others, then how can you assert yourself in these situations to co-create a different outcome? In our families, we all have roles that we play. When we keep responding in the same ways, we stay in these roles, even if it is unhealthy. The only way to make change in our family dynamics is to change ourselves from within and change how we engage in these relationships.
Respecting Your Own Boundaries
This is the hardest part! Once you decide to set limits and start asserting yourself, the most important part is following through with the boundaries that you have set. This might seem like it could ADD to the overwhelm instead of reducing it, but once you start doing this consistently, it is a surefire way to stop yourself from getting overwhelmed in the first place. Think about it - if you have realized that hosting Christmas as well as housing out-of-town guests is too overwhelming for you - and you assert yourself by communicating your boundaries, then you are giving yourself an opportunity to create an entirely different experience for yourself where YOUR needs are being met, preventing the overwhelm. Respecting the boundaries that you have set will enable you to see the outcome of these changes. If you don't follow through - then you will find yourself back in the same overwhelming cycle you were in before.
Making Self-Care a Priority
During this time of year when your focus is usually on giving to everyone else, it is so important to do things that make you feel good. Take the extra time in the shower, make time to connect with people that make you feel heard and supported, make sure you are eating nourishing foods that are good for your body, go for that walk that you don't feel like you have time for. Doing anything that helps to "fill you up" is going to help you manage feelings of overwhelm when they come up. I always describe meeting your own needs by speaking up for yourself and setting boundaries as "deeper" self care; but to be able to do this work you need to feel strong and supported. Identifying your triggers and find grounding strategies that help you to reduce anxiety and feel more centred is a great starting point, alongside doing the little things that make you feel good about yourself and within yourself - physically, emotionally and spiritually. What supports can you put in place to help you with setting limits and reducing your overwhelm during this time of year? Leave a comment!
Do you need support to learn how to set and maintain boundaries with others? Come to my workshop in January that is focused on setting boundaries and communicating effectively with others: Navigating Relationships in Motherhood
JEN IS A COUNSELLOR AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BOOKING A SESSION WITH HER OR ATTENDING ONE OF HER GROUPS OR WORKSHOPS, VISIT THE ESSENCE OF YOU WEBSITE OR CONTACT JEN DIRECTLY.