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A Holiday Survival Guide

First, I want to express my gratitude that I am writing this to people who understand the need for a survival guide to get through the holidays. 

Second, I want to affirm those who have beautiful traditions and look forward to holidays. You building on old memories is beautiful!

This time of year comes with a layer of pressure that I have found unbearable. It took me some time, but I learned instead of caving under the pressure of performing, spending, fake smiling, exhaustive party going, holiday card receiving from picture perfect families, out of place feeling, I HAD to take my holidays back.

A quick backstory: 2009 was the first time I said no. I used to drive to my hometown in Alabama every holiday season, and come home telling myself it was my last time. I did not know much about boundaries and I did not have anyone to tell me that the work I was doing to heal was being poked and prodded every time I returned to the crime scene. Truly, I did not know.  

What I think a lot of us don’t see is it’s not just the holidays that are hard, but navigating the old memories that come alive by people and places that our body remembers. If holidays have been difficult in times past, any time you visit the people and places associated with those memories, parts of you will wake up. 

This is in addition to the other tough parts: 

  • The first of holidays without people who are no longer in our lives. 
  • The constant financial pressure to make holidays look a certain way.
  • The aches of life not being the way you wished it were.
  • The reality that anxiety, depression, pain, does not break for holidays. 

You get it. They can be tough. 

I want to share some realities that are true for many people so you know you are not alone:

  1. Estrangement is far more common than you think. There are no commercials that share a narrative of someone who is rebuilding their life after extensive trauma and became estranged and is now navigating that. That story would not sell coffee mugs or jewelry. But, there are many. There are many who know that pain and also feel like the world is moving on without them, especially around holidays. It is normal to feel out of place if you are estranged.
  2. There are also a lot of people who dread holidays. There are people who have exhaustive triggers, and those who gave so much of themselves and always felt overlooked, and the holidays are not something they need, want, desire to continue building lives they enjoy. 
  3. Mental health is a beast this time of year. There is a holiday mad dash to do, do, do and then a screeching halt. This comes at a price to those already hurting. 

If you relate to any of these, here are a few ideas that I hope can help you have holidays with more peace:

Make a plan of who you want to see and what you want to do. Get that in the calendar now. Confirm it. Then make a list of the things you do not want to do, and the people you would rather not see (and if you have extra energy, write out why). Write out how you will respond to invitations that you do not want so you don’t feel caught off guard. Here are some examples:

  • “I am actually working on some new traditions this year and I won’t be able to attend.”
  • “I have been going at such a fast pace the last two months, that this is the only chance I am going to get to rest before that pace comes back.”
  • “Thank you for the offer. I am not feeling up to much people contact.”
  • “No thank you.”
  • “No.”

Please put the necessary people on speed dial (including your professional helpers, if your mental health tends to become more work over the holidays). Be prepared by acknowledging that you have had other holidays where your mental health has been hard, and you just want to let people know you have them on the short list. Let your doctor know. Ask who to reach out to in their absence. Let your closest friends/safest people know. Here are some examples:

“Would you mind if I reach out to you if I see my mental health declining over the holidays? I may need a supportive talk, or a visit. I am trying to be proactive.”

***If you do not have proper support, please go to this link on my website and check out which of these resources feel like they would be a good fit for you. Also use Reddit to find many specific topics (estrangement is a big one on there).  

An honest moment: My worst depressive episodes have always been in December. My depression always hits extremely hard and fast. Daytime naps are the most common culprit. I peacefully lay down for a Saturday afternoon nap, and when I wake up, I am unable to get out of bed (sometimes for days). This trend for me has always been from going as fast as I could to avoid what was going on inside of me, while continuing to give to others what I did not have. Please trust me when I tell you that these boundaries and the preparation may feel small, but they make a massive difference when you are hurting. 

Engage in the things you enjoy most as often as possible. Acknowledge how hard it is to be present and then invite something in that always offers you relief. Watch your favorite movies. Eat your favorite meals. Sit in your favorite spot, and listen to your favorite song. Find new movies, meals, and songs. I don’t want to contradict myself, but when being present is too much, distract yourself. The goal is for you to get through the holidays feeling safe. Distraction is not bad. 

A few other tips:

  • Be aware of topics in conversations that tend to trigger you and do not engage. Take a breath and say to yourself “I do not owe this time to anyone.” Kindly express “I don’t have the capacity to speak on that at this time” or slowly walk away. 
  • Take notes of how you are seeing yourself grow since last year. What are you most proud of that you handled differently?
  • Write out what does work this year and what you would like to be different next year. Put that in your calendar to pop up as a reminder. 
  • Meet me in the IG stories as often as you can and I will load you all down with memes and messages from one another. Stay tuned on that!

I hope this year the holidays are something that do not come costly to you. I hope they are a transitional chapter where you shed the expectations of what costs too much and you find yourself bathed in peace and pleasure. 

I’m so glad you’re here!

Nate

P.S. – I am hosting my first live retreat in Costa Rica in January. If you are interested in this, click here to get more information and join the waitlist. 

P.P.S. – I have an additional free guide coming to you next month: “A Beginners Guide to Trauma Recovery.” Sign up below so you’re notified when it’s available. 

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