The Holidays are supposed to be a time of giving thanks and enjoying family – but for many of us they turn into a nightmare.

In this article, I discuss what makes the holidays difficult, and give you steps you can implement for a much better result.

A lot of us go through the holiday season feeling like we should be enjoying the cheer and merriment, but we aren’t. Many of us feel just the opposite… sad, disengaged, overwhelmed.  It is a frustrating contradiction that’s increasingly common.

Apart from lacking daylight and cold temps in the Northern Hemisphere, there are a couple things that happen during the holidays that make them difficult to get through.

Family Overdose

The first is that we are exposed to a lot more family than we usually are in our day to day life. For many of us this involves visiting with parents and/or in-laws – and sometimes extended family too.

In a perfect universe, most of us want to enjoy this time with family, but….  we often end up frustrated and dispirited by patterns of interaction we have established with these people. As much as we want the patterns to go away,  we keep re-living them over and over again. Each time we visit, we’re confronted with the same thing, over and over again… and it can seem like Groundhog Day.

You might get drawn into political debates with your dad or uncle who is a Rush Limbaugh fan and you’re most definitely not…

Or it could be that your mom likes to tell you what to do, and you feel like she’s treating you as a child….

Whatever those patterns are, they disrupt our energy and make the Holidays much harder to handle. They take us away from our “Core” and get us into reactive ego-land, where frustration and angst are par for the course.

Once we’re in reactive ego-land, it’s often hard to recover back into “sanity” until we get away from these people.

Worse still, if we start feeling cranky or dispirited, we may do or say something we regret. That can feed into guilt, and guess what that guilt does? It reinforces the whole negative cycle we’re already in. It produces more negativity and guilt.

We feel like we should be “better” as a child/parent/neice/nephew than we are being, and that makes us feel negative and unworthy.

Basically, it sucks. We’ll talk about some remedies in a moment, but first let’s look at the next thing that most of us face during the Holidays.

Overwhelm in the Holidays

This second thing is a basic sense of overwhelm. For my academic clients, many look to the Holidays as a time to get away from teaching and committee duties, and to both recover energy, but also to make progress on things like grant proposals.

Yet what often ends up happening is that we start out feeling great to finally have some free time, and soon, we’re overwhelmed. By the end of the Holidays, we’ll look back and often feel guilty that we accomplished so little.

How does that happen? The Holidays are overwhelming. What may have been a nice, calm time a century ago has turned into a big shopping and visiting fest. If you go to the malls, they are overrun with people. If you go to the airports, they are overrun with people. Traffic is crazy. Expectations are crazier.

Since most of us feel obliged to spend time with and buy gifts for the people in our lives, we are thrust into that craziness on a regular basis through the travel and the shopping.

While I’m a girl who loves a good sale from time to time, wading through all the options and ads is often too much. It’s too much information for anyone to deal with – especially if you’ve got a complex career and home life too.

On top of that there are physiological factors. With the cold weather and diminished sunshine (in Northern Hemisphere) we often have less energy to get out, and are more prone to getting sick. If you have kids, they love to bring home viruses that affect the whole family.

On top of that, for academics, the Holidays often cap off an intense Semester. This ends in a bout of grading, finishing up un-done work, followed by trying to move things forward before the next semester starts.

For our human biology – which evolved on the quiet savannas of Africa – this kind of constant push and information overload is not something we are equipped to deal with for more than a short span of time.

It affects us mentally, and that can spill over into physical effects as well. This is a time of year when fatigue-like symptoms often appear.

At the time of year when we feel like we’re supposed to be “cheerful” and “energetic,” instead we just end up feeling “tired” and “run down.”

That sucks, doesn’t it?

While solving this is not a “quick fix,” here are some pointers to get you started:

  1. Avoid unrealistic expectations. Be aware of unrealistic expectations for yourself and others, and avoid them like the flu. Most of us go into the Holidays thinking that we’ll get work done, get travel done, get shopping done, get cooking done, get time with family spent, and on the list goes. It’s like we have to be a combination of Martha Stewart, Albert Einstein, and Gandhi all wrapped into one little bundle of joyous energy. Talk about unrealistic! We are all human, and no matter whether we’re in great physical shape or not, we all have limits. Many of us ignore those limits when we’re thinking about the future, and this is especially bad when it comes to the Holidays. So it’s important to really scale back our expectations for ourselves during this time.
  2. Sleep more. No matter how you slice it, the Holidays are going to be more stressful for most people than during “normal” times. Dealing with stress requires additional sleep – at least if you want to stay healthy. So, give yourself permission to sleep more. Don’t see it as “wasting time” but rather, see it as “investing time in well being.”
  3. Exercise. It’s way too easy to feel “stuck” inside due to the inclement weather. Yet getting outdoors is an essential mood-lifting tool in your arsenal. Even a 15 minute walk can make a big difference. If you live where it’s cold and icy, bundle up nice and warm and get out! (Some people consider me weird, but I love getting out on my bike this time of year when it’s sub-freezing. There aren’t many other bikers out, so I feel like I have the roads and trails to myself.)
  4. Avoid the big sales at the mall and crowded places like that. Like I said, I love a good sale. But years ago I swore to myself that I’d avoid Black Friday outings, and I am very glad that I did. The question to ask is this: how much does it cost you in terms of stress and frustration to save a few dollars when you go out shopping with the big crowds? For most of us, it’s simply not worth it. This is especially true for those of us who are wired to be “internal” – i.e. who don’t like spending lots of time around lots of people. Going against our own inner nature can really end up being de-energizing, and the effect can last for days.
  5. Avoid guilt. We are a society of wannabe superheros. Many of us have totally unrealistic expectations for ourselves about what we should and can accomplish. Since none of us end up ever meeting our expectations for our own “superhero” status, we then end up feeling guilt over it. And, this kind of guilt can be amplified by interactions with those people in our lives who like to use guilt as a tool to manipulate us. Yet all the guilt just saps our energy and well-being. And worse, sometimes the guilt turns into shame about our own abilities, and that’s even worse.

Now, one thing we didn’t address here is how you deal with your relationships with other people – especially when it comes to (sometimes pushy or intrusive) family members.

This is a big subject, so instead of trying to cover it here, I’ve put together a brand new training “Managing your relationships: how to take control of both your personal and working relationships so they don’t drive you crazy.”

It will help you during the Holidays, but also applies to any other time of year.

To join me on the training (which will be on Tuesday December 8 at 4 pm MT/6 pm ET), you can use this fancy button:
Click Here to Save Your Spot


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