6 Ideas for Navigating the Holiday Season

It’s almost December. Some of you reading this feel dread in your body as the month approaches. In our culture, December (regardless of faith tradition) tends to bring the pressure to feel all happiness, all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with happiness and joy, and there can be an exciting buzz in the air when December rolls around. But some of us start counting down the days until January 2nd, when the holiday season is officially over.

This could be because of the difficult childhood experiences in your family during the holidays, or maybe it’s the first year you’ve been without a loved one during this time. You might be in the middle of working through your trauma, you’re struggling, and it feels like you don’t have the space or energy to care about the holidays. The possibilities are endless, and whatever your reason, it’s valid.

As you head into the holiday season, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Share what you’re experiencing with others.

Whatever you feel—dread, fear, ambivalence, shut down, grief—matters, and it’s almost certain you aren’t the only one having this experience. Talk to trusted friends, your therapist, or your sponsor about these feelings. Especially during a time that’s “supposed” to feel celebratory, the tendency for many of us is to keep things to ourselves. But connecting with others is healing in itself because it means we’re operating outside of old beliefs and survival strategies. You’re also likely to receive and/or offer experience, strength, and hope. If you only choose one thing to implement from this list, this is it.

Make decisions based on what feels best for you (as you’re able).

I know this can be tricky. Most people from dysfunctional family systems had their reality invalidated and needs not considered over and over again, making the idea of doing what’s best for us feel foreign. This is why I said, ‘as you’re able.’ There’s no one way this should look. If you’re only able to make one decision that’s based on what you want, that will be helpful. That’s healing. That’s growth.

Focus on what feels best for you, not necessarily what you think is best. Because our minds can become pretty jumbled in challenging situations, pay attention to what’s happening in your body as you make decisions. For example, you’re invited to a dinner party with people from work, but you already have several other functions that week. Take a moment and really consider each choice. I like to say “try it on.” Picture being at the dinner party and notice what that feels like in your body. Then picture not going and do the same. If you’re new to connecting with your body, this might feel strange or scary, or you may find it hard to discern what your body is telling you. That’s okay. Be as patient as you can with yourself as you learn.

Have a plan if you’re going to be with your family of origin.

Many of you will spend time with your family of origin over the holiday season. I strongly suggest that you have a plan in place before you do so. As you gain clarity about your family—what you experienced, what things were really like— being around them can be difficult. Having a plan in place can help.

Your plan will be unique, but here are some ideas:

  • Stay in a hotel rather than with your family
  • Make sure you have your own car
  • Touch base with a recovery friend every day
  • Make sure you have time to yourself
  • Have something with you that’s grounding, comforting, and/or reminds you of your recovery

Involve your support people in the creation of your plan (see point 1!). Have them look at it and give you feedback, or maybe you’ll want someone to help you make it. 

Plan activities you enjoy. 

If you dread December (and even if you don’t), plan a few things to do this month that will be fun for you. Some of you may need help figuring out what you like—that’s not unusual. It’s going to look different for everyone. It could be something big or small. Maybe it’s a hike that you’ve been wanting to try, a game night with friends, or driving around looking at lights. Whatever it is, I encourage you to choose at least one activity specifically for you.

Take it one day at a time.

I used to deeply dread December. I spent the whole month (and usually most of November) wanting it to be January, which meant I was rarely present for any of it, even the fun parts. If that’s been your experience, take it one day at a time. Navigate each day as it comes, allowing it to bring what it will while being as present as you can. If it’s difficult, be present for that, if it’s fun, be present for the fun, and if it’s neutral, be present for that, too.

I wish you serenity this holiday season, in whatever ways you’re able to experience it.

Peace on the journey,