Written by Kristin Greco, MSW & Edited by Madia Javid-Yazdi, M.Ed.
This piece is deliberately delayed because I hope it reaches you at a time when you can, with some distance, reflect on the holiday season.
It can be a wonderful time of year, but also one that people dread. Grief and loneliness may be felt as a result of absent loved ones, major life transitions impose change to tradition, and/or ambivalence to create personal boundaries can all weigh into an experience of uncomfortable obligation and unrealistic expectation.
Now, in the new year, it’s time to recover from the season’s setback: the tendency to neglect self-care. The negligence of self-care often rears its head for me in November and December. This is due to a few factors: My husband and I have three children who celebrate birthdays around this time, it is the Christmas season for our family, and there are unavoidable extracurricular activities saturating our evenings. Additionally, as a therapist, there is an increased need for my support around these months.
Like many of you, attempting to meet the unrealistic (commonly self-imposed) expectations of myself and/or family members are high at times; and then something always gives. If you’re like me, it’s self-care first. Next, my poor husband is at risk of experiencing the brunt of it.
We are afraid to disappoint others. We would rather (resentfully) follow through with what feel like obligatory arrangements as opposed to setting boundaries to address our own needs.
Setting boundaries by using communication to convey needs in a loving, assertive way, can create a season that is fondly remembered, versus one that is dreaded or happily forgotten. It’s not always easy, and may not initially be received well by all, but in time, healthier relationships can evolve as a result.
It may be useful to consider: What was pleasurable and what was not? Can you modify or evolve traditions to better meet the needs of certain family members, your children, yourself and/or your partner? Are you sacrificing your own individual desires to please others?
My husband is at ease during large family gatherings. For lack of a better term, he “comes alive” during the holidays. This is also something I love about him. He can say, “The more the merrier” and mean it. I, on the other hand, love each of my family members, but having them all in one space can feel overstimulating for me. Previously, I wondered what was wrong with me in these situations where retreating to the washroom to recuperate from the energy of all the excitement brought me great relief. However, I now know there is nothing “wrong with me.”
In fact, a reluctance to address my discomfort fails to nurture a strength that I posses. I require stillness and quiet to recharge. I find great pleasure in one-on-one conversation where I can really “catch up” with someone. The energy of numerous people in one place can overwhelm me and make it difficult to focus and enjoy the present moment. My sensitivity at large gatherings and tendency to feel overstimulated, is also a characteristic that enables me to be more intuitive as a therapist, mother, and friend. In other words, I have always been extremely cognizant of those all around me; consciously and unconsciously interpreting verbal and non-verbal communication.
Although my husband and I operate differently during the holidays, we ground each other. Over the years, we have found a happy medium in the way we “do” the holiday season. It requires a lot of communication, compromise, and sometimes disagreement. In the end (most importantly) we practice empathy for one another’s shared needs (including those of our children). Needs can transform and shift over time, just as swiftly as a shift in life can occur. Consequently, continual, clear and empathic communication is imperative.
Begin to practice self-care. What small changes can you make in your life to live more contentedly in the moment? Why not take a risk and assert your needs? You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.