“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”

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Photo by Dave Jennings/Leslie Fireman

Sasha Baumgartner provides readers with more Unqualified Advice about Valentine’s Day

By Sasha Baumgartner, Columnist

The extreme bear hug, followed by the red lipstick kiss stain on your cheek. Then, in the corner, you notice the grinning snowman that is going to become your best friend for the night as you escape the awkward question being spat at the table. The holidays are supposed to be the most “joyous” time of the year, but can actually bring up uncomfortable feelings and anxiety as they approach, and while they are happening.

When the winter holidays are brought up in conversation, there is this unspoken rule that an individual must have so much fun and joy throughout the season. But in reality, all the commercialization and pressure that comes with the holiday leaves people feeling the complete opposite.

There are constant demands for perfection in terms of cooking delicious meals, purchasing amazing gifts for everyone on the list, and entertaining family and friends you may have not seen all year. So, not only are you pleasing and hosting outsiders at your house, but some guests may be people you have not seen in a long time, bringing even more anxiety. (What are we going to talk about? What is going to be their first impression of me? How are they going to feel about me?) 

According to Mayo Clinic, there are many “unwanted guests” who can show up to holidays and attempt to ruin them. Those unwanted guests are stress ,depression ,anxiety  etc. This article offers great tips and tricks for a balanced lifestyle during the holidays, and stresses the importance of planning ahead and recognizing your feelings.

The Mayo Clinic Staff perfectly states, “Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown.”

I could not have said it better myself. 

This time of the year, many family traditions are celebrated and brought to life: whether a dinner all together at the dining room table with the Christmas village glowing behind, the tree farm you visit every year – freezing your ears off, while gripping tightly to a semi-warm hot chocolate – or an activity like the mandatory surplus of cookie baking (so many cookies and for who)?  Family time can be immensely stressful for individuals and relationships are often very complicated because there is an expectation that everyone conforms to the same behaviors, with the same thoughts and values, just because they are family. 

Also, there are pre-established roles in the family that restrict individuals from being their true selves. For example, if you are the youngest cousin in the family, you are treated like the baby (and sometimes that reception never changes, even when you are a full-grown adult. These roles can make people feel distanced from family because they sense as though they are forced to break off with a specific group at gatherings (i.e. aunts go together, uncles go together, cousins/siblings go together). This stigma of the family groups and roles, really brings anxiety because as individuals grow and develop, their ideas, opinions and values change; however, at the holidays, in particular, they feel as though they cannot change their “family role.”

BeWell Stanford  explains the best ways to survive holidays and make it through with family gatherings is to have realistic expectations of others and try to prepare so that your holiday is enjoyable. Sadly, the winter holidays have come to be about “survival” of “joyous events” for many.  BeWell Stanford brings up a point everyone can relate to: “Every family has at least one ‘toxic relative.’ Because of the expectation of being together during the holidays, there’s pressure to ‘put up’ with someone you’d generally avoid.” Often, this “toxic person” adds more stress and fear to the holidays and holiday events. 

So as one can see, there is a completely valid reason to be more anxious or stressed during the holiday season. The pressure of going home for the holidays, seeing distant relatives, and letting your family see the true version of yourself are all stressors that present during the holiday season. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever someone should feel like they must put up with someone or something during the holidays. Remember, it is your holiday too, so if there is a toxic person or something you do not want to do, simply opt out. Individuals have no obligation whatsoever to put up with a family member or participate in a tradition if they do not feel comfortable doing so. If such activities are going to make your holiday stressful, tiring, or sad, then you have every right to say no. Just simply say NO. Do not accept or put up with on-going pressure around the holidays. Find out what works best for you and your needs around the holiday season so that you can feel comfortable and have genuine fun around and during the holidays. 

Every year on Christmas Eve, my family has the tradition of going around the table and each saying something for which we are grateful. I began to put this pressure on myself that I must say something meaningful and special to each person, but some of these individuals I had not seen since the previous Christmas, so what was I supposed to say? Especially last year, in the midst of the pandemic, I hardly saw anyone except immediate family so the idea of even just being on a Zoom call with these individuals was stressful. They had no genuine clue of what I had gone through mentally that year with isolation and personal problems, so it really presented a distance between us. I felt pressured to act “normal” on our family Zoom call, when in reality, I was at my complete lowest. It was not until after Christmas that I really realized that holidays can be for me as much as they are for my family. 

An example of how Christmas should be: relaxing by the tree, soaking up the warmth of the day. (Photo by Sasha Baumgartner)

The gatherings and events are for family members, to give them validation that you love them and you are making it through life. However, personally, I have learned that the holidays are also for your own self-reflection. I sat up late on Christmas Eve last year, taking a moment to reflect on myself and the journey I had taken over the course of the year. I saw how, during the holidays, it is important to spend time with family, but just as much to spend time with yourself. At the end of the day, the relationship with yourself is the one that is going to be with you everyday – constantly – for the rest of your life. Therefore, it is not selfish to ever prioritize yourself. 

So, this winter, take some time after a family gathering, sit down with your thoughts, and reflect on all you have been through the previous year. Thank your body for carrying you through it all and protecting you. Thank yourself for being there in that moment, living and breathing. Take time to be with family for the holidays, but also take time for yourself. Improve your reflection of the year.

For future holiday seasons (including this year), take some steps to make it enjoyable for yourself and those you are close to. Start new traditions that are actually amusing and eliminate stress for everyone, such as staying home and having a Christmas spa day. Try new things, and do not be afraid to say NO, or speak your opinion. Use your unique voice at family gatherings to vocalize for yourself because you do not all need to have the same ideas or values. Remember, it is perfectly acceptable to say things like “I feel uncomfortable answering that question,” “I’m sorry, but can we change the subject,” “I’m alright, thank you.” Never – ever – feel obligated to go somewhere or give someone the answer they are looking for if you do not personally agree because that will ultimately lead to distress for you, personally. 

Take care of yourself this holiday season and give yourself the rest and rejuvenation you so much deserve. Use that totally cool, valid voice and make new pleasurable traditions. So, take care of yourself, buy yourself something fancy, live your life, and don’t listen to me, because yet again, I don’t know.