How to Survive the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. The “most wonderful time of year”? As much as the holidays represent a time of rest, joy, and spending time with family, it also comes with challenges such as:

  • Feelings of loneliness from not having anyone to spend the holidays with
  • Having to spend time with family (can’t live with them, can’t live without them)
  • Milestones or anniversaries around a death or loss
  • Figuring “what’s next” when we’re in transition (e.g. between school and starting work)
  • Managing the holiday festivities including how to moderate drinking

Celebrating for One

It can be extremely hard to go through the holidays alone. There can be many reasons as to why this is the case including: being away from home for school, working in another city, having strained relationships with family members, not having a significant other to celebrate the holidays with, or simply because this isn’t a tradition or cultural period to celebrate; each of these situations can be challenging. It’s also common for people to feel more emotionally distant even when they’re in a room filled with people. The holidays can bring out our anxieties and can make us feel quite depressed.

It can be really hard when we’re feeling vulnerable to want to put ourselves out there and address our loneliness by being emotionally vulnerable. It is super important to give it a try and think of this as an investment into somewhat of a New Year’s Resolution. Some things that might be helpful include:

  • Be good to yourself. Just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Cliche right? Well, it’s exactly that. You can choose to treat yourself to something nice for the holidays or you can choose to sit and think about how lonely you are. The choice is yours to make.
  • Say “yes” to at least one holiday invitation.
  • Challenge yourself to spend at least 30 minutes at a holiday event and socialize while you’re at it. Don’t fall into the expectation trap of “I should be here with a partner” or “my family is supposed to be here”.
  • Reach out to others and suggest or try an activity together. You can do this by posting something on Facebook or Instagram, sending out a quick text, or trying an event on https://www.meetup.com/cities/ca/on/toronto/ (there are also meet ups in other cities you can check out).
  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling during the holidays. You might surprise yourself because they might be feeling the same way.
  • Pick someone you want to have a deeper emotional connection with and make an effort to spend time with them, talk to, or do something together.
  • Write down some holiday memories that were amazing and see if you can recreate some of them or make new holiday memories.
  • Be a part of the season of giving by giving back to others.

Sometimes we might try a few things and need some support from others. It can be helpful to reach out to family, friends, or a therapist. You might be able to enjoy a session with a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Getting Over the Family Holiday Dramas

As much as the holidays is a time to be spent with family, family can also be super complicated. Take “Home Alone” as an example. Kid is left alone for Christmas and has the time of his life, because no annoying older brother, no pestering parents, and no loud uncles, aunts, or cousins to ruin the quiet of our alone time. Pure bliss if you ask me.

Yet, for some of us, it’s expected that we’re spending time with our family. So, here are some survival tips for this holiday season:

  • Be realistic about what the holidays will be like. Many of us might idealize what the “holidays” should look like, remember that nobody’s family or holiday is perfect.
  • If things don’t go as planned, see if you can reach out to your supports to vent about how you are feeling.
  • Leave guilt at home. Being around family can bring up a lot of confusing feelings, with guilt being one of them. Be kind to yourself and try not to put unreasonable pressure on yourself.
  • Say “no” and set boundaries. Alongside guilt is the unrealistic expectation to say yes to requests over the holidays. It’s okay to say no in a thoughtful and kind way, and then for you to go about the rest of the holidays as you please.
  • Spend as much or as little time as you want with family. It can be super overwhelming to be under the same roof. Make sure to check-in with yourself and reach out to your supports during this time.

If you need support setting boundaries or talking down your expectations for the holidays, you can get that support through a trusted family member, friend, or therapist.

After the Death or Loss of a Loved One

The holidays can bring back memories for us when we’ve lost a loved one. These memories can be triggering and put a damper on the holidays. How are we supposed to have the holidays we’re so used to when an important part of that was to spend it with the people we love who are no longer here with us?

It’s important to have opportunities to express the loss you’re experiencing. You can do this by:

  • Sharing a favourite story about your loved one.
  • Have a prayer or moment for that loved one before starting your holiday dinner.
  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one.
  • Hold a place at the table for your loved one.
  • Start a new tradition.

Everyone grieves in their own way, so it’s okay to do something that feels right for you that isn’t listed here at all. You might also find different people in your life such as family and friends who grieve the loss of your loved one in a different way as well. That’s okay too.

It’s important to give yourself time and be gentle with yourself. You’ll have mixed feelings about a lot of things, and that’s okay. Let them out and reach out for support if you need it. You can also set boundaries with others during the holidays and excuse yourself from events if they feel too painful to be a part of.

It might also be helpful to have professional support such as a therapist or support group, especially during a challenging time such as the holidays.

The Dilemma of “New Year, New Me” Turning into “What’s Next?”

With the holidays coming up, it can be extremely daunting. For those visiting family, this means we might be back in the throes of curious family members and concerned parents who might want to know what we’ve been up to or “what’s next?” Yes, we know, it’s going to be a New Year, but maybe we haven’t had enough time this year to really have it all figured out just yet. Instead of being thrown into happy festivities, our family might bring up thoughts of “what have I been up to? Have I failed or disappointed them?”

Honestly, nobody knows what they want to do or what they should be doing, because if we actually knew then we would all be in perfectly happy jobs right after school. It really takes years before most of us can actually figure out what we like and that itself can change with time.

In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started on the “what’s next?” question:

  • Try things that scare you (no, we don’t mean sit in a room filled with turantulas). Think about the thing you want to do, “are you stopping yourself from doing it out of fear of failing?” If so, you might want to give it a try.
  • Identify the things you think you should do and then drop the ones that you aren’t aligned with or serve your happiness (e.g. “I should know what I want to do next year after school but I just want to travel” or “I should keep this job because I don’t know if I can find another job”).
  • Set the game plan with short-term and long-term goals. Think about where you want to be tomorrow, next month, 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now, and 10 years from now.
  • If you were to imagine telling people what you did with your life while you’re on your deathbed, what would you want to say you’ve achieved?
  • Check-in with family, friends, and other supports (e.g. career counsellor, academic advisor, therapist, support groups) and explore your strengths, values, and interests to figure out your next big move.

And if you’re still feeling confused while being bombarded by all of these thoughts and everything everyone is asking, take a breather. It’s okay to take time to figure these things out. Plus, if it’s past December 31, great! Another year is on the clock before we need to go through this again.

Champagne Towers, Eggnog, and Other Holiday Drinks

The holidays are a time for relaxing, and usually that means lots of food and for those of us who are of the “legal age” of majority, that does mean having a few alcoholic beverages. It’s what we know in society as a way of celebrating – popping the champagne on New Years Eve is a staple image most of us see as a way to ring in the New Year. With that said, it’s important for us to think about how we are mindful and drinking smart at family events and holiday parties. Added bonus: it’ll probably also help with the calorie counting madness that may start come January 1st. (Yes, we’re going to quote some Health Canada now).

One drink is the equivalent of:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 12 ounces of beer.

The following guidelines can be used to limit long-term health risks:

  • women: 0-2 drinks a day, up to 10 drinks a week.
  • men: 0-3 drinks a day, up to 15 drinks a week.

When drinking:

  • Don’t drive. Make plans to sleep over, have a designated driver, or grab a ride with your favourite ride app (e.g. Lyft, Uber, taxi)
  • Drink water between each alcoholic drink so you can stay hydrated or have something to eat between drinks.
  • Practice moderation. Grab a straw and sip at your leisure. It’s not a competition. You’ll probably also enjoy your drink more.
  • Consider how you’re feeling when deciding if you’re in a good space to be drinking. Often feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness can be exacerbated with alcohol. As a general rule, never drink to numb your emotions. It will most often backfire.
  • Know your tolerance level, be realistic, and set realistic holiday drinking plans before an event where drinking might happen.
  • Think about who you’re drinking for. It can be challenging in a work setting or with friends or at home to say no to a drink if it’s being pushed on us. It’s okay to say “no, thanks” or grab a non-alcoholic drink if you’re feeling awkward without one (cranberry soda, perhaps?).

With that said, be safe and enjoy the festivities of the holidays. For those who need more support around their drinking, follow your 12 step program, reach out to your supports, and maybe give your therapist a call.

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