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Navigating the Holiday Season with Authenticity & Self-Care

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

The expectation for the Christmas season to be the "happiest time of the year" can indeed bring its own set of pressures. It's important to recognise that it's okay not to feel the holiday cheer all the time. In fact, this can be a tough time of year for many, and feelings like grief, loss, sadness, loneliness, and guilt can often be heightened during the holiday season. Christmas time can also be triggering for anyone who is estranged from their family, has experienced a big loss, or has a strained relationship with certain relatives.

Whether it's the pressure of expectations, the absence of loved ones, strained family relationships, or other challenges that make this time of year difficult for you, it's important to navigate at your own pace, and with self-care and compassion.

Parenting & End of Year Burn Out:

Kids are tired. Parents are tired. Expectations are high. Capacity is low. Try to ease your expectations over the next few weeks as we enter into the holiday season and approach the end of the school term and the end of the year. Kids will have meltdowns, there will be hard moments and long days, there may be judgement from others. Try to slow down, let go of the idea of perfection, and practice acceptance. There is no one that you need to impress. There is no such thing as the perfect parent, the perfect family, or the perfect Christmas. Kids won't remember how many gifts were under the tree, but they will remember who was present and the feeling of fun and togetherness.

When struggling with parenting, burn out, and navigating big feelings in little people, try to be gentle with yourself, soften your expectations, and embrace the messiness of parenthood. The hard times will pass. Be kind to yourself, notice the glimmers, and remind yourself - I am doing my best, and that is enough.

The Pressure of Holiday Expectations:

The holiday season often comes with set expectations, but these expectations may not align with everyone's experiences, preferences, feelings, or values. The pressure to adhere to certain religious or cultural standards, create the perfect celebration, find the ideal gifts, cater to in-laws or extended family members, and maintain a constant state of joy can be overwhelming. It's important to recognise that these expectations often contribute to stress, anxiety, guilt, and holiday burnout, and it's okay not to conform to them if they don't align with what matters to you.

Remember to prioritise self-care and permission to slow down and do things your own way, and at your own pace.

If You Have a Strained Family Relationship:

As humans, we all want to belong, to feel safe, to feel seen, and to be accepted. In a time of year that prioritises family, it can feel incredibly isolating when spending time with relatives is just not an option for you – or, if it is, when it doesn’t feel like a safe or welcoming environment. It's a tough and hurtful situation, no matter how much you brace yourself for it, and it's totally valid to be angry or upset if you don't have this type of loving and supportive connection with your family.

If this rings true for you, it's okay to make choices that work for you, whether it's going for a short time, making a self-care plan, bringing along a supportive friend or partner, or even deciding not to go at all. If skipping a family get-together is what's best for your mental health, that's totally fine. If you still want to connect with your loved ones, you can suggest alternatives that work better for you, like a phone call or video chat. Using technology helps set up boundaries; if things get uncomfortable, you can always end the call.

It's also important to remember that your blood relatives aren't the only source of connection and support. Think about what you might be missing and consider whether support from others could help to fulfill those needs. Not having those key bonds, especially around Christmas, is incredibly tough, and it's okay to admit you're having a hard time or are feeling alone. When feelings of sadness or loss arise, allow yourself to feel them without passing judgment, brushing them off, or trying to rush past them. Give yourself permission to be wherever you're at and feel whatever you're feeling. Remember, family doesn't always just refer to the people related to us by blood. Family also encompasses those who love, support, and genuinely care about us.

If You're Struggling with Change, Grief or Loss:

Navigating Christmas after a big loss or major life change can be an emotional minefield. The holiday season, often associated with joy and togetherness, can amplify feelings of grief, sadness, and a sense of absence. Whether it's the first Christmas without a loved one, coping with a recent breakup or divorce, or adjusting to other major life transitions, the festivities that usually accompany this time of year may feel like painful reminders rather than sources of joy. The traditions once shared with someone who is no longer present can evoke a deep sense of longing and sorrow. Coping with the dissonance between the external cheer and internal struggles can be especially challenging during this time.

It's important to keep in mind that grieving is a highly personal process, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Some might find comfort in preserving cherished traditions, while others might need to create new rituals that honor the memory of the past or mark the beginning of a new chapter.

Reaching out for support from friends, family, or a professional can be invaluable during this time. Connecting with those who understand and empathise with the complexities of loss or change can provide a sense of companionship amid the solitude that often accompanies grief. Additionally, finding moments for self-care, setting realistic expectations, and allowing yourself the freedom to navigate the holiday season in a way that feels right can be pivotal in finding a balance between honoring the past and embracing the present, even if that means finding ways to acknowledge the changes or the person who's not there.

Co-Parenting During the Holidays:

The holiday season, traditionally centered on family and togetherness, can be especially challenging for families navigating separation or divorce. Whether it's your first Christmas post-separation, or you've been co-parenting for years, the holidays can bring about lots of big and conflicting emotions for the whole family.

Supporting your child through the adjustments, acknowledging their feelings, managing conflicts, modeling respectful behavior, and using child-friendly language will help to protect your little one's emotional well-being and minimise any loyalty conflicts they may be experiencing. Be sure to take breaks, engage in self-care activities, and look after your mental and emotional well-being as well.

Co-parenting in general requires a level of adaptability, and that is made easier when you take a child-focused approach, soften expectations, and establish clear boundaries with your co-parent. Prioritise creating positive holiday experiences for you and your children, engage in activities that bring them happiness and comfort, and be open to adapting holiday traditions to better fit current circumstances. Click here to read more about Co-Parenting During the Holidays.

If You Find It Hard to Be Around Family:

Maybe your family is high conflict, are prone to arguments, or certain family members just don't get along. Perhaps you have a tense or uncomfortable relationship with your in-laws. Maybe your family have strong views and beliefs that don't align with your own, or they make you feel pressured or judged.

If you're dealing with some heavy feelings that make it hard to be around family, it's important to be proactive. Setting boundaries, practicing self-care, finding healthy ways of coping, managing anxiety, going in with a game plan, and leaning on others for support can help to make time spent with family a lot easier to navigate.

Setting and Enforcing Boundaries:

Boundaries aren't about controlling or fixing others; they're about owning and expressing what you need to feel comfortable. Being clear on your limits around your time and your physical, mental, and emotional energy are powerful ways to establish boundaries that protect your peace. For many people, it can feel hard to do what's right for you without feeling guilty. It's important to remember that setting boundaries and taking care of yourself doesn't make you selfish – it makes you a healthier, happier person. Accept that you won't always be on the same page with certain people, while also keeping in mind that you have the right to say "no" to things that don't align with you.

Protecting your peace might look like avoiding conflict, standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, leaning on a support person, declining an invitation, or simply saying "no".

Knowing Your Limits:

When it comes to navigating things like anxiety, stress, discomfort, and the added pressures that this time of year can bring, it helps to figure out what triggers you – when, where, and who's involved. Understanding what sets these feelings off can help you to find effective ways of coping, and having a game plan can help you to feel more in control.

Figuring out your limits before you're in the middle of the chaos can help. Notice how discomfort feels in your body, and imagine respecting that inner limit. Maybe that's planning a quick exit when your heart starts racing, or letting folks know that you're not comfortable discussing certain topics. You can help to keep conversations light by planning a few "safe" subjects in advance that you can divert to if things get off track. If your boundaries are getting trampled, stand your ground. Maybe take a breather outside or politely excuse yourself from the conversation.

Acknowledging Your Feelings:

The holidays can evoke a wide range of emotions, and it's perfectly normal not to feel festive and merry all the time. Take the time you need and be gentle with yourself as you navigate the complexities of the season. It's important to remember that the holidays are about connection and joy in a way that feels authentic to you, and that might look different to what is considered "traditional". Prioritise what brings you comfort and peace, and try to let go of any guilt or unrealistic expectations.

If there are changes to how you're celebrating or who you're celebrating with, your Christmas might look or feel a little different than what you're used to. It's okay to have mixed feelings about this - humans are complex, and it's possible for us to feel more than one feeling at once. It's okay to grieve a loss while also finding moments of joy in the holiday season. It's okay to struggle with change while also feeling hopeful for the possibilities of what's to come.

Be Kind:

This Christmas, someone you know is preparing for their first Christmas without their partner, parent, sibling, or child. Others are preparing for their last. Regardless of the specifics, remember that this season of joy can be a season of sorrow for many. Be kind, be generous, be compassionate, be caring.

Reaching Out for Support:

During challenging times, reaching out for connection and support is a powerful act of self-care. Surround yourself with empathetic people who can offer a listening ear or a helping hand. If the holiday season brings feelings of loneliness or sadness, seeking professional support is a valid and valuable option. You are not alone, and reaching out to others for support can provide comfort, understanding, and validation.

Prioritising Self-Care Activities:

In the midst of holiday chaos, self-care is essential. Find activities that bring you comfort and joy, and make time for them. Whether it's a quiet evening with a good book, hugging your pet, listening to music, spending time on your hobbies, exercising, going for a walk in nature, or simply taking a break to breathe, self-care is essential for maintaining mental and emotional well-being. By prioritising your needs, you can navigate the holiday season with greater resilience and authenticity.

Embracing Authentic Joy:

Remember that the holiday season is about connection and joy in a way that feels authentic to you. Release the notion of perfection and try to let go of all the unrealistic expectations. Embrace the joy that resonates with your values and preferences. Whether it's a simple gathering with a select few loved ones, or a quiet moment to yourself doing something you love, seek out what brings you genuine happiness and focus on those moments.

Embracing Rituals and Traditions:

Many of us celebrate cultural, familial, personal, and religious significance through Christmas rituals and traditions - some handed down through generations, others cherished since childhood. These traditions often carry special meaning and provide us with a sense of continuity, connection, celebration, and joy during the holiday season. When facing significant changes or losses, the holiday season can become an opportunity to create new Christmas traditions or redefine old ones. Redefining old traditions doesn't mean letting go of cherished memories; it's about adapting them to reflect the present. That might mean honouring a departed loved one in a special way, or tweaking longstanding family traditions to better fit current circumstances.

If engaging in familiar traditions feels too painful or challenging, finding joy in creating new ones or celebrating in different ways can offer a sense of purpose, comfort, and fulfillment during the holiday season. Christmas rituals can be listening to carols, driving around to look at Christmas lights, watching cheesy holiday movies, baking delicious treats, filling your home with decorations, or anything that is meaningful to you. Remember, this time of year looks different for everyone.

A Gentle Reminder:

Prioritise what brings you comfort and joy, whatever that looks like for you, and give yourself permission to navigate things at your own pace. Remember, you are not alone, and by honoring your emotions and needs, you can find a sense of peace and fulfillment.

This holiday season, remember:

  • Let go of unrealistic expectations

  • More is not necessarily better

  • You're allowed to speak up for your needs

  • Connect with others

  • "Family" is another way of saying "people who love, support, and care about me"

  • Seek happiness in the small moments

  • Embrace imperfection

  • Focus on slowing down

  • Prioritise stillness, laughter, and being present

  • Practice basic self-care

  • Set boundaries to protect your peace

  • Be kind to others and yourself

  • Take a moment to yourself if you need it

  • Make space for whatever you may be feeling

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