Just what is it about the holidays that leaves so many of us emotionally volatile and exhausted? Sure, there is the late nights, demanding social calendar, and the overspending.
But are they really the reasons that every year you are inevitably annoyed at a colleague after the staff party, fighting with crazy Uncle Stan over roast carving techniques, and wanting to disown your children by Boxing Day?
The Truth About the Holiday Hump?
Ever notice that in Christmas movies, the elves seem stressed and grumpy, and it’s Santa who sits around happy?
One of the hidden reasons that the holidays leave so many of us far from jolly is this –
-we somehow, amongst the tinsel and the turkey, forget all about boundaries and self-care. We become more like an elf – obsessively fulfilling others orders and wants to our own detriment– and less like a Santa, able to happily give to others and yet still the one who holds the reigns and directs the sleigh.
C might be for christmas, but it is also, coincidentally, the first letter in codependency– working to please others to attain a sense of self-worth and entirely forgetting our own needs.
So the secret to a better holiday season for you and those around you? Get honest about being in victim mode and change the channel.
Why Do We All Become So Codependent at Christmas?
One reason is the culturally-maintained vision of the holidays being warm, loving, and, well, perfect. Of course it doesn’t help that advertising jumps on this notion and force feeds us various versions of it, starting from as early as October.
The second we start wanting perfection, and wanting to create and offer that perfection to those around us, we start being hard on ourselves and letting the the needs and desires of others completely overshadow our own. (Even when half the time, those needs and desires are what we assume others want and might not even be the case).
And when we forget our own needs, the resentment and frustration begins. It’s easy enough to start telling ourselves we were put in this position, as if we have no choice but to have the family get-together at our house, and no choice but to overspend on gifts.
But we always have a choice.
Shifting Your Mindset and Restoring Control
The key to happier holidays is a matter of embracing a proactive mindset. Approaching the holidays with an assertive attitude instead of passively feeling like a victim of your circumstances means that you make intentional choices.
While nobody has complete control over life, and thus over how exactly the holidays unfold, being conscious of all the things you say yes to – and the reasons why – gives you quite a bit of power, indeed.
So how exactly does one leave behind the ‘victim elf’ mode and go into ‘master-of-the-sleigh’ mode?
5 Steps to Mastering Christmas
1. “Own It”
It’s time to admit to where you are blaming others for choices you have made. If you hate having your parents over but went ahead and invited them, this means it’s time to accept it’s not your sister’s fault because she wanted you to, but was your choice to send that invite.
Of course, compromise happens. “Owning it” isn’t about calling off the festive meal and sitting around with your feet up reading trashy novels because you want to.
The point is to take back your power. If you are going to your in-laws house as a compromise to accommodate your partner, you are still the one who made the choice and came up with the compromise. Which means that if that compromise really doesn’t suit you, you are also the one who can come up with a new, equally civil compromise.
2. Consciously Re-Evaluate
Owning our decisions means we realise we have the power to change them. But before you go full steam ahead making a new plan, do make sure you aren’t riding an emotional response. Recognising where we have been being a victim can involve a bit of a wake-up moment that can also bring along some righteous anger at first.
Take time to think and re-evaluate your situation. You might find that the process of journalling or talking it through with a trusted friend outside of the situation (or a counsellor) can help you spot new alternatives you didn’t think of. This can mean ways to get what you want without throwing to much of a spanner in the works over commitments you’ve already made.
For example, if you realise you are secretly livid that your son has manipulated you into buying him a new laptop you can’t afford for his gift, what about bargaining with him to wait until the boxing day sales?
2. Reframe Expectations
If you have feel a victim because your holiday is shaping up to be something very far from what you have in mind and you are sure it is everyone else’s fault, sometimes getting back in charge is simply a case of a quick perspective shift.
If your visions of a white Christmas singing songs with your family by the fire has dwindled into a rainy time on the coast with only your partner and dog because the rest of your family is overseas this year and nobody wanted to rent a chalet in Switzerland, you are essentially setting yourself up to feel hard done by.
What would happen if you focussed on what you realistically could make happen, and what you can change? For example, the singing part has potential. It’s within your power to make plans to go to a choir performance or a concert, or have friends around for a singalong. Find a way to meet your own needs instead of feeling disappointed when things don’t turn out how you envisioned…yet again.
3. Prepare a Toolbox
Enter into the season prepared with your personal box of sanity tools. If you choose to stay with your sister over the holidays even though her children drive you mad, find ways to maintain a healthy boundary while you are there. Tell her in advance that you are going to be going for a long walk by yourself every day, or take along some work and excuse yourself to your bedroom.
If your family members always bring up emotionally-charged conversations, brush up on your communication techniques in advance, or come prepared with a polite way to excuse yourself from unnecessary drama – time to take along the dog who needs walking every hour!
(For more great tips on what y0u need to navigate holiday stress, see our article the zen of managing holiday stress and our advice for how to stay calm at christmas. )
4. Address Basic Needs
Watch carefully for little ways you are not taking care of yourself. Codependency can be like a rolling snowball. One minute we are saying yes to a pudding we don’t really want, the next we are shovelling the driveway while everyone else sits by the fire and seething.
Write out exactly what you need to stay feeling good and then remind yourself daily to meet those needs, even if that means getting up an hour early to fit in your stretches and meditating.
5. Stay Mindful
Mindfulness, a technique integrated by many therapist for the way it helps clients to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings and enjoy each moment more, is definitely something anyone’s holiday schedule can benefit from. Try a two-minute mindfulness break when the stress rises or you feel you are losing site of yourself and trying to hard to make everyone else happy.
Another way to stay mindful about taking care of yourself and staying in charge of your choices is to work with a prop– perhaps a certain ring you don’t usually wear, or a piece of coloured string around your wrist, that every time you see reminds you that taking care of your own needs means you are in a better mood and far jollier to be around.
Do you have tips to staying in charge at Christmas? Post them below, we love hearing from you.
Pictures by Casey Fleser, Dave, Kyle Taylor, Rodrigo Baptiste, Kamyar Adl