We are fast approaching the avalanche of festive frenzy. For some of us it can be a joyful experience. But for many of us it can feel as though commercialism and expectation blend together to make a bad cocktail we’re forced to keep sipping, smiling as we reassure everyone that yes, we’re totally fine, and absolutely, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Maybe the days are laced with more than a little overwhelm as you navigate nostalgia for what once was or the ache for who is no longer here.
And everywhere you go there’s the music or the memories or the rising anxiety as you find yourself making comparisons about how happy everyone looks in the movie, the commercial, or the Instagram post.
Here are three ways to help you get through the holiday season with more joy and ease.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, or a barbecue in July. There is no celebration that is dependent on your suffering. You are allowed to show up (or not) as you need to, regardless of the family pressure or the guilt-trip from friends.
Setting boundaries can sometimes feel uncomfortable, and it can be hard to break the pattern of people-pleasing. But without boundaries, you’re leaving yourself wide open for overwhelm.
Communication is key. If you haven’t communicated a boundary, then you haven’t set one. You need to use your voice to state your needs, whether it’s about the amount of time you spend at a certain gathering or a family member you would prefer not to spend too much time with.
To effectively set a boundary it’s best to communicate calmly but firmly. You don’t need to be confrontational, but you’re not required to be overly apologetic either.
“I’d prefer not to do that” or “I’m not comfortable with this conversation” are perfectly adequate ways to express your needs. You’re simply letting the other person know what you’re willing or able to do or engage with. It gets easier with practice.
On a recent visit to London, I was staying at my parents’ house. Although I was on the go quite a lot, there were also some evenings when I’d just be at home with my parents, and I’d often retreat into my old teenage bedroom for an hour or so.
A couple of times I found myself questioning whether this was appropriate. After all, I was only visiting for a relatively short amount of time, and I didn’t want to regret not spending all my available time with them.
But then I reminded myself that I need alone time, especially as an introvert. Without that me-time—without that boundary—I’d likely find myself struggling. That means I’d be more likely to be less gracious, which in turn creates more opportunity for misunderstanding and potential friction.
Setting boundaries is a way of honoring our needs. It doesn’t make us selfish or uncaring. Boundaries are actually rooted in compassion because they signal that we care about our relationships and how we show up in them. Boundaries are a way of investing in those relationships so that they don’t break down.
Another thing about this time of year is the extreme amount of pressure that’s put upon us to say yes to every request, every invitation, every event. Again, our people-pleasing tendencies might rise to the surface. We don’t want to upset or offend anyone. But when we say yes to everyone else, we’re almost certain to end up feeling rundown and resentful.
A couple of years ago, a challenge did the rounds in November to start saying no to anything that we didn’t have the capacity to take on.
For such a tiny word, no can often make us feel really uncomfortable. Especially women in midlife who are often juggling many roles and trying to keep the peace.
However, saying no is also a form of saying yes. When we say no to what we don’t want, we’re able to say yes to what we do want.
Maybe by saying no you can say yes to more space (that doesn’t have to be filled), more peace of mind, more ease, or more joy.
If I find myself struggling to make a decision about what to say yes to, I pause for a moment, take a breath, and ask myself: “Will saying yes to this request take me a step closer to overwhelm or a step further away?” It really helps to bring clarity.
Remember, “No”vember can extend into December and beyond, too!
3. Your Non-Negotiable Need
You can discover your non-negotiable need by doing a few minutes of simple journaling. Start by contemplating what your month ahead looks like.
When you consider your plans for the coming weeks, what do you immediately think or feel? Notice what comes up in your body.
Maybe there’s some excitement. Perhaps a little dread. Maybe there’s an area of your body that feels achy, or tight, or restricted somehow.
Take your journal and write “When I think of the coming weeks, I feel…” Then jot those feelings down. Give yourself a couple of minutes or as much time as you need to write it out.
After you’ve finished writing, take a couple more minutes to read and review what you’ve written. Because within those feelings that you’ve acknowledged, there’s something that you need for yourself. Something that will help support you.
That something is your non-negotiable need.
Your non-negotiable need might be a block of uninterrupted time each day to go for a run, meditate, or binge watch a show on Netflix.
Try not to overthink it. It can literally be anything. It doesn’t have to be “good” or virtuous in anyone else’s eyes. You are not evaluating the merit of this need. You’re simply acknowledging that there is a need and you’re creating a container in which you’re able to honor it.
In your journal, add a new sentence: “My non-negotiable need for the coming week is…”
Writing down your non-negotiable need is a powerful way of affirming that your needs are worthy of being honored. I recommend re-reading this page of your journal each morning to remind yourself of what is important to you and to help keep you on track.