Holiday times remind us of special significance and meaning. Thanksgiving is an American tradition. It’s about being thankful for all that we have. Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and holidays at this time of year also have special meanings. Of course, New Year’s is a celebration of the ending of the year, with all the excitement about ushering in a New Year and making resolutions.
For both the holidays and the New Year, we often set up expectations that are well-intentioned, but not realistic. Our goals may be too high, too general, or too long-term. We may be unable to maintain the commitment required, resulting in feelings of failure and low self-esteem. So, expectations need to be realistic, and a specific plan needs to be developed with short-term goals to maintain motivation. Meaningful rewards will reinforce our behavior, increasing the likelihood of its recurrence.
Holidays also tend to remind us about the past, including good and bad memories. Sibling rivalry issues may resurface at this time. Old family conflicts may also be replayed, resulting in hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and ultimate disappointment as we attempt to achieve approval from the ones we love.
Sad feelings may also be generated around holiday time, as we are reminded of those people who are no longer with us. This natural marker of time, which is often one of reflection, reminds us of the deaths, divorces, and changes which have occurred. The holidays may not be the way they used to be.
Overindulging ourselves and our children are sometimes subtle ways of compensating for these difficult feelings. Excessive gifts, drinking and eating are sometimes ways in which we attempt to “Take care of ourselves.” The ensuing result may feel overwhelming and out-of-control, however. Keep things in perspective. Find balance in life. Expression of our spirituality, paying attention to our needs, exercise, and sharing feelings with trusted people are good ways to begin.
- Keep your expectations in check!
Expectations need to be realistic and do-able.
- Holidays tend to remind us about the past, including good and bad memories. Understand that people do not always change. Avoid, or minimize “toxic” people, relatives or “friends.”
- Remember that sad feelings may be generated around holiday time.
Missing people during these times is natural. Personal reflection, prayer, meditation, etc., may be a way to acknowledge these feelings.
- Avoid overindulging.
Excessive gifts, drinking and eating are sometimes ways in which we attempt to “Take care of ourselves,” however, the result may feel out-of-control. Kids may also feel overstimulated and out of control.
- Structure is important for everybody, especially kids. Cutting out usual routines because you are stressed or “too busy” is self-defeating. Don’t minimize the continued need for proper diet and exercise.
- Find balance in life and keep your “emotional self” in-check.
Expressions of spirituality, paying attention to our emotional needs and sharing feelings with trusted people are good ways to begin. Saying “No” is not self-centered.
- Developing your own rituals is a way to celebrate family values.
Michael J. Athans, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Athans and Associates
32 Main Street, Park Ridge, IL 60068