Unsure how to survive the holidays when you are highly sensitive? You’re not alone. The vast majority of people report feeling stressed around the holidays. There a gifts to be purchased, meals to be planned, guests to invite, and the ongoing fight for a few moments of peace and reflection amid the chaos. Those smiling faces on holiday cards are a promise of joy and an omen of stress. However, if you are a highly sensitive person the balance shifts towards ominous.
When you are highly sensitive the holidays can be an overwhelming and overly stressful time – a time that, no matter how early you start your annual countdown, you can’t seem to look forward to with any form of happiness.
If you’re like me, the simple logistics of extending your day a few more hours –during the darkest time of the year- so that you can battle traffic and bump against crowds of other stressed people in busy stores with glaring fluorescent lighting and bad music is enough to set you off the season. Maybe your triggers are more emotional and the thought of spending hours unearthing years worth of emotional baggage and trauma – and then stress eating your way through the dessert table – makes you anxious beyond measure.
Emotional, financial, sensory, or something else – your stress is valid. Struggling with the holidays does not make you a Scrooge, it makes you human. Here are some tips that those of us who consider ourselves to be more sensitive than average use to navigate the holiday season. If you find some of the common approaches to the season a bit more taxing, try these ways to lighten your load.
Set your limits: Chances are by now you actually know what works and what does not work for you. Maybe it is time to simply stop doing the things that do not work for you. Often when confronted with this option people will respond by saying there is some reason that they HAVE TO do what they are doing. I urge you to question this response each and every time you have it. By beginning to set limits and getting rid of the activities that tax you the most, you will be steps closer to enjoying your holidays –and that’s the point right?
Pare down your activities: Too much for anyone is stressful, too much for a sensitive person is an even bigger problem. It is important to pick and choose what you are doing so that you are taking good care of yourself. Yes, it can be hard to say no but in the end less is very likely to be more.
Plan Ahead: Telling your sister on the night of her big holiday party that you can’t make it because you are overstimulated is going to create more of a problem for you than looking at the month in advance and making sure that you have it laid out in a way that will work for you. Another version of planning ahead is doing your shopping early or doing it online to avoid last minute stress.
Adjust the traditions: Who said you needed to do it that way? Perhaps, the way that you have been celebrating is less than ideal for you. Maybe it is time for a change. Even the traditions themselves can be adjusted to suit your sensibilities. If large crowds are a challenge, maybe you can have a small gathering on a non-main day. If a tradition in your family is insensitive to certain members, maybe it is time to try and change that as well.
Take Care of Yourself: Our resiliency goes down when we get run down. It is particularly important to get adequate sleep, eat well, and do all the other things that we know we need to do to take care of ourselves so that we have the physical stamina we need to navigate the holiday season. The more that you can take these important actions, the more smoothly we can expect things to go.
Break the Mold: It needs to be said. If the holidays are a major challenge for you maybe it is time for you to buck the system. Perhaps, it is time to create an entirely new experience around the holidays. If you could imagine a way of celebrating the season that you looked forward to every year, what would it be? Why not try that?
The bottom line is that you are not going to stop being a sensitive person. It is how you are made. So, pushing forward without making adjustments to your holiday plans will keep ending you up in the same pile of problems. Making the changes that honor who you are could leave you looking forward to the holidays. And if you do end up sitting out of a few holiday gatherings, you can always curl up with the latest issue of Conscious Creative Magazine and a hot cocoa. You can’t beat that!
There is something both comforting and beautiful about the end of the year rituals of our holiday celebrations. No matter what you choose to celebrate, each year we return to what we expect to be the same events – perhaps this is a party or meal, purchasing gifts or attending certain religious or spiritual ceremonies.
With the beautiful parts, we also return to the less beautiful – for some of us this is the stress of family, or loneliness, or financial burden. Because of this, it is a perfect time to work toward change. Instead of accepting these stresses as a given, an unavoidable part of the season, what could be different?
How can you use this time of year to grow your sense of how GOOD your life can be?
Below are 18 tips from www.greatist.com to help you reframe many a potentially stressful holiday situation.
Let It Go. For many families, the holidays are the only time everyone is in the same place for more than a hot second. What better time to bring up a forgotten birthday, an unpaid debt, or a longstanding childhood feud, right? Um, no. If you can’t let go of an old grudge (and please, please try), don’t turn a holiday gathering into an airing of grievances. If forgiving someone just isn’t possible at the moment, put on a smile and focus on other matters.
Stand Tall. Being around family has a way of making us revert to our childhood selves. Resist the urge to whine at Mom, fight with siblings about the remote, and, most importantly, defer to others about your own life. Grandma might not approve of your job or lifestyle choices, but when you’re an adult your life is your business. Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. Go With the Flow. Someone forgot the dip, a baby cousin wailed through dinner, and the dogs ate the leftover roasted chicken. A big holiday gathering can bring out the control freak in many people, but resist the urge to make everything Pinterest-worthy. Relax and breathe, and remember that next year no one will remember the time you dropped the Christmas pudding (Okay, we can’t promise that. They might remember. But it’ll be a lot more fun if you laugh along — because c’mon, it’s pretty funny).
Be Self-ish. Nobody likes to hear it, but each person can only control his or her own behavior. Stop trying to make Mom more cosmopolitan or Grandpa less nostalgic. The holidays will be much less strained for everyone if each person only worries about his or her own actions. Of course, with a meddling family this can sometimes feel impossible, but focus on being your best self.
Privacy Please. Don’t be afraid to answer a prying question with “none of your beeswax.” Every family member doesn’t need to know every detail of your life, especially if it’s something you’re not comfortable sharing. So, sorry Cousin Jenny, I’m not going to talk about why I quit my job.
Act Like Santa. Getting everything on a holiday wish list is great, but keep expectations within reason. Avoid disappointment by focusing on the act of giving and people’s reactions to those gifts. Better yet, donate time and money to a worthier cause than your shoe collection.
Get Moving. When the urge to run out the door strikes, listen to it! Heading out for a walk or jog in the brisk air can improve any mood and give you some much-needed space from pesky relatives. Plus, getting blood pumping can reduce stress hormones like cortisol in the body.
Do It Yourself. Taking on a specific project or responsibility can give you a boost of energy and motivation to do something besides watch reality TV while counting the hours until you can leave. Instead of loafing around in the kitchen, stay busy by helping with chores like collecting cans for a food drive, taking the recycling to the dump, or restocking the fridge.
Put the Bottle Down. Sipping on spiked eggnog or a hot buttered rum is part of the fun, but it’s no surprise that alcohol + crowded rooms + family grudges = a whole lot of drama. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes some people more aggressive, so making sure no one gets too friendly with the wine bottle is a good way to keep the peace.
Follow the Leader. When someone else is running the show, stay on the sidelines. Nobody likes a know-it-all cousin trying to steal their thunder, so let Uncle Jim teach Dad how to carve the ham, even if you have a better technique up your sleeve. Besides, trying to take on too much is a recipe for a stressful holiday meltdown.
Mind Over Matter. Feeling really overwhelmed? Find a private space and do some basic meditation to get back on track. Mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety. Check out these 10 ways to meditate every day.
Mix it Up. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to suggest an alternative. If everybody just picks at the traditional roast goose at Christmas dinner, try chicken or ham or even a show-stopping vegetarian dish. Just because someone always hosts the big event or brings a certain dish doesn’t mean they want to do so indefinitely. When planning for the holidays, make sure no one feels forced to carry on a tradition they don’t particularly like.
Zip It. As the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Let old conflicts gather dust and don’t create new ones by haranguing relatives and kvetching about little things like who brewed the weak coffee.
Positive Pals. Hang out with people who make you feel good about yourself. Spend the most time with supportive relatives and just catch up briefly with others. There’s no reason to be constantly surrounded by negative influencers. And if a conversation is driving you bonkers, simply stand up and leave the room.
The Power of No. Take a lesson from the classic holiday movie “Home Alone” and play to your strengths. No one can do everything, so don’t feel guilty about saying “no.” If you hate cooking, don’t let yourself get roped into hosting a festive dinner. Bring wine or decorations to someone else’s party instead!
Pace Yourself. If you’re scheduled to attend two or three holiday parties every day, consider taking a step back. When seasonal commitments pile up, it’s easy to wind up overbooked. Though friends and family will miss you if you ditch an event, it’s important to take care of yourself first and foremost. Set some boundaries around what you do and do not have energy for, and stick to them to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Keep it Real. Holiday treats are great, but you’ll probably feel better if you don’t drink eggnog like it’s water. As tough as it may be when traveling, try to stick to some semblance of a healthy routine. Allow yourself those holiday indulgences, but remember to also eat fruits and veggies and keep active for your own peace of mind. Incorporating aspects of normal routines can make that weeklong stay in a childhood bedroom a little easier.
Love Is All Around. At the end of the day, remember what the holidays are really about. Family members meddle because they love you, annoying traditions exist to bring people together, and everyone (even grumpy salespeople) just wants to be home for the holidays. When family-induced stress threatens to crush you, take a minute to think about the bigger picture and give thanks for what what’s often taken for granted. Focus on what’s going right or went right in the past year instead of what’s wrong. The holidays are a great time to practice gratitude.