One of my strongest memories of the holiday season is of my mother playing loud and proud on the old record player Burl Ives' rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Later in life it became a race to see who would first pull out the CDs of holiday music.
Back then, one dared put up public displays of Christmas only after Thanksgiving. Now, the holiday season starts before Halloween. As a result, this sacred family holiday has morphed into a rat race of competition and expectation.
How do we survive this chaos and remain sane?
First, you need to determine your passion for the holiday season. What is it that gives this time special meaning and purpose? It does not matter if it is religion, family, good will, or giving and getting the coolest gifts. Knowing what your passion is defines your personal and family mission.
Mission statements are a regular part of business planning. I recommend them for you and your family to help set a "true north" course in life. Once you know where you are going it is so much easier not to overextend yourself during the holidays.
Finding your passion leads to your mission statement, which can then help define your roles. Your roles are all the hats that you wear in your personal family "circus." The most common roles are employee/boss, wife/husband, mother/father, daughter/son. For example, if your passion is family you need to focus on saying yes to events and tasks that help you model the morals and values to your kids that you hold as important. Moreover, you need to limit the amount of committees and volunteer work that you do if your family is not involved. If, on the other hand, your passion is to give and get cool gifts then you need to work long hours and budget accordingly to afford those items.
If you have too many passions that you are trying to serve this will never work. I encounter this frequently in my practice. A young mother is actively competing in her chosen profession but still wants to be keenly involved in her children's school. She is still planning and expecting the perfect "Normal Rockwell Christmas." At some point it does not work. One needs to realize that there are only so many hours in a day to cram in activities and expectations.
Another example of overextending is having an emotional affair with your job. If your passion is your profession then this makes sense. But don't be surprised when your family starts to fall apart. One can have a focus on their profession while still having a passion for the family. This will allow you to filter all decisions through your mission statement. Does doing this or that activity align with your mission statement?
Ultimately, you need to start to say NO to opportunities that pull you too far away from your Family Mission Statement for the holidays. You may not have time to go to every Christmas party. This does not mean that the hosts are not good family friends, only that you are choosing self-care. Self-care is vital to our well-being and keeps us on track towards fulfilling our Family Mission Statements. This in turn helps us to slow down and concentrate on what is really important to us over the holiday season.
Now, something to put on your calendars:
To help you in this process, Trinity Mental Health Services has planned a series of talks on how to successfully cope with society's unrealistic expectations of each of us during the holidays.
"Tis the Season for Stress" will began Nov. 23 and will continue each Monday through Dec. 14. The one-hour talks are free and open to the public and will be held at 4 p.m. in the Education Center of Trinity Health Center-Riverside, 1900-8th Ave. SE.
Some talks so far have covered a variety of situations.
Lea Johnson, LICSW, presented a light-hearted look at mental health and stress through the eyes of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, the setting for the Winnie the Pooh stories. Lea will help us to laugh at and understand our behaviors, which ultimately reduce stress. I presented "Ringmaster 101: Managing your 3-Ring Circus," an honest look at our expectations of keeping multiple balls in the air with perfection.
On Dec. 7, Linda Gertz, LPCC, will present "Stress Prevention: How to keep it Working." This presentation will provide concrete coping skills for you to employ during the holiday season and beyond. An example of this is incorporating healthy eating and exercise into your life, which gives your body the fuel to complete tasks.
Finally, Jean Frueh, LPCC, will facilitate a wrap-up of these sessions on Dec. 14 with an informal question-and-answer presentation.
For information on these programs or if you have other questions or concerns, call Trinity Mental Health Services at 857-5998.
Liz Larsen is a licensed clinical social worker with Trinity Mental Health Services in Minot.