Are you feeling overwhelmed by the holidays?

As the end of the year approaches, we look forward to some rest and relaxation – even some fun. We want to do all the things we didn’t have time for during the year, including spending time with family and friends.

But for many of us, the holidays aren’t all fun and games. According to the Consumer Reports National Research Center, many Americans dread the holidays. The things they wish they could avoid include:

  • gaining weight;
  • getting into debt;
  • seeing certain relatives;
  • receiving disappointing gifts;
  • having to attend parties or events; and
  • having to be nice.

If you can relate to parts of this list – or you start feeling overwhelmed just looking at it! – then it’s time to take some action. If you want to avoid repeating the same old dramas, anxieties, melt-downs, conflicts, disappointments and trashed finances, you’ll need to rethink your approach.

Here are a few things to watch out for when you think about your holidays:

1. The belief everything will just fall into place and the holiday will sweep you off your feet

This is a bit like believing that Prince Charming is right around the corner. Things seldom just fall into place, especially when it comes to family. Don’t get me wrong; there are nice families who enjoy nice, relaxing holidays. But if this hasn’t happened for you yet, then counting on it is a bit optimistic. If you leave everything to take care of itself, you may be headed for a bumpy ride.

2. Saying “yes” to everything

Have you ever heard that for every “yes” there are at least a dozen “no”s? The word “yes” always has consequences. Agreeing to something simple, like showing up at a party when you’d rather be relaxing in front of the TV, can lead to exhaustion, resentment and not enough time to do the things you really want. That means saying “no” to your need for some downtime, “no” to that voice in your head that’s saying you can’t handle another party, and “no” to every single one of the things you could be doing with that time and energy.

There are only so many hours in the day, so many responsibilities you can deal with at one time, and so many social events you can attend before it all takes its toll. If you think that somehow this year will be different, that you’ll be able to manage it all this time – you may be right. But unless you’re thinking about how you’re going to do things differently, nothing will change.

3. Making excuses and feeling terrible for it

For some reason, we seem to think that we need a “good reason” to say “no”. And often we have one – but it’s not one we want to share. It might be private, or someone might find it hurtful, or it might not seem “good enough” to someone else. So we make up something – something less personal or more “logical”.

But making excuses comes at a price: either people argue with us (and those arguments are difficult, especially when we know we haven’t been completely honest) or we feel guilty for bending the truth. Fortunately, there is a way out.

Before you make an excuse, ask yourself whether you need one. Most people don’t need a “good reason” for your decisions – the fact that they’re yours is good enough. When someone asks you why you won’t be coming to their party or helping with the year-end fundraiser, keep it simple. “I wish there were more hours in the day!” or “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the energy,” is good enough. So is, “I’m sorry. I just can’t make it.” You don’t need to give a reason unless you want to.

4. Believing you have no choice

We always have a choice – even when we don’t like any of the options. The moment we decide to go along because we “have to”, we’re inviting resentment into our lives. Someone or something out there forced us to do this, and we resent them for it. When we recognize that we do have a choice, even one we don’t like, there’s nothing to resent. We can choose consciously, according to our most important values.

If you choose to go to a social event because you want to be there for a friend or relative, then there’s no reason for resentment. You’ve made a choice. If you choose to go because it would look bad if you didn’t, then whose perceptions are you worried about? You can resent them (whoever they are) for having power over you, but is it worth it? You’re making the choice that works best for you right now. You’ll be happier if you own it and move on.

5. Letting your emotions run the show

This is the time of the year when emotions run high. For some it’s positive: anticipation of a family gathering, looking forward to a much-need vacation…. But for others, painful memories or the pressure of keeping everyone happy make it stressful. When our expectations aren’t met, or the stress gets to us, even the smallest things seem gigantic. Remember this, and take a few deep breaths before reacting to anything.

6. Not having a plan for dealing with conflict

During the holidays, you may find yourself spending time with people you don’t like. The chances of conflict are high, especially if it’s happened before. But you’re hoping this year will be different. Maybe you won’t be in the room when it happens; or maybe this time you’ll finally pull out that clever-yet-mature response that puts an end to it all.

It could happen. But how likely is it … really?

It pays to prepare for the worst. Do you know your triggers? Have you thought about how to respond – and when to walk away? They say it takes two to tango. What can you do to calm things down?

7. The need to be in control

Are you one of those people who needs to be in control of everything? Does the chaos of the holidays drive you nuts?

At this time of year, that chaos may be unavoidable. The best thing you can do for yourself is to accept it. But if that’s too hard, don’t worry … there are still a few tricks you can use to get through it all.

Find where you can be flexible, and decide how to handle the places where you can’t. If the in-laws’ kids are just too loud and out of control for you, consider how to minimize your time around them. At big gatherings, seek out the people you like. If you’re an introvert, look for the other introverts. They shouldn’t be hard to spot – they’ll probably look as miserable as you feel!

Finally, look for little things that you can take control of. If you don’t like the food, bring your favorite dessert – or a large, healthy salad, if that’s what you’re into. Having some of the little things your way can make it easier to deal with the rest.

8. Not knowing where to draw the line

The holidays bring us into the same room with all kinds of people – including some who don’t share our values.

Everyone sees things differently – but we all want to be right. Of course, that’s not possible. But it is possible to respect our differing views. Know who you can disagree with respectfully and who makes a conversation unpleasant. Be clear about when you need to speak up and when silence is enough – and when it’s best to walk away.

Some people “cross the line” just to see your reaction, while others have no respect for any opinion other than their own. Decide ahead of time how you’re going to deal with these people – and forgive yourself if you don’t get it completely right.

If you’d like even more practical ideas to help you feel less overwhelmed, check out my free video series: Better Boundaries Holiday Tips. Whether you spend some more time with the points I’ve shared here or watch some of the videos, the important thing is that you start thinking about your holidays now. Planning ahead will get you closer to having the holiday you want, whatever that looks like to you.

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