Holidays bring up lots of emotions. It’s this time of the year to celebrate and spend time with family and friends and it makes me wonder how to manage this emotional intensity and get the best out of it.
First there’s the anticipation, which can cause excitement or dread. When my children were young and my mom was living with us I used to have these family celebrations for all of us. I went to great lengths to cook, decorate a Christmas three and the house, get gifts and goodies. It had special meaning for me, it felt so warm and special. But now that my kids are grown, busy with their own lives, I don’t have this urge anymore. I actually don’t want to be running around preparing stuff and do appreciate some down time to stay home and relax, read a good book, watch a movie. And then I have friends who unfortunately lost a loved one recently and what the season brings up for them is sadness and anxiety, and I wish I could lift their spirits.
Then there are decisions, all emotionally loaded.
What should I do – should I cook and host a party? What do others expect from me – what does my family need from me? And what do I need – maybe a quiet day at home?
I would actually love having a family get together but I don’t feel motivated to put up with two days of cooking and all the logistics.
We can’t control our environment but we can decide how we respond to it. So, what’s the best way to respond to these holidays feelings and what’s the best holiday decisions and behavior?
For many of us it’s a mixed bag. We have mental images and ideals that we aspire to and that are from the past – memories, stories, or movies. And then there’s reality and the gaps in between. The gaps are painful, when reality does not meet expectations it hurts.
Do we want some cliché celebration that will leave us feeling empty? Or would we rather experience something authentic that resonates with who we are today and brings us meaning? So how can we best figure how to have the best time possible and get a feeling of fulfilment and satisfaction?
Using some Emotional Intelligence skills can be helpful here.
- Self-Awareness – it is important to be aware of what comes up emotionally and what it means. What kind of memories, what kind of feelings are being stirred up? Are we going to be driven by our feelings, recreate situations that repeat some old patterns? Or are we going to acknowledge these but move on and live in the now? Sorting out what goes on inside determines how we behave outside and how we experience our life today.
Upon reflection, I became aware that my drive to host holiday diners for my family was fueled by my nostalgia of old times. I cherish my sweet memories of family holidays, time spent with loved ones in a warm and joyful atmosphere, sharing delicious meals that I cooked with enthusiasm. But the reality today is that my kids are grown and my mom is no longer with us. I cannot recreate the past. And then cooking is no longer as satisfying. I still enjoy it from time to time but not as often. The busyness is less appealing and I’d rather get involved in the conversation than attend to the practicalities of serving diner.
- Decision Making – The brain likes functioning on autopilot, it’s easy. This means repeating without thinking. Making a decision requires energy and work and especially when decisions are emotionally loaded. Thus, to increase our chances of making a good decision it’s important have lots of energy available for it and not be exhausted or sleep deprived. Being aware of what emotions come up and acknowledge them, we can then decide what to do with them and what’s the most beneficial behavior. From there we’re on the right track to adopt the right holiday mindset and decide on what is the best way to celebrate that will make us feel nurtured, energized, and bring us the comfort and the meaning that we’re looking for.
After agonizing for a few weeks about whether to host or not our holiday family dinners I finally decided that Christmas will be a NO. Instead, it will be a quiet and relaxed time at home. My kids actually helped me by making their own plans with in-laws and friends. So, it will be just my husband and me. We’ll sleep late, eat leftovers and watch a good movie. Then for New Year, it will a YES, but with a twist. I’ll host and we’ll get together with kids and friends but without any hard work for me – we’ll order in pizza and dessert, and I may prepare one of our favorite salads. It will be a great time for conversations and sharing our New Year resolutions.
Celebrating is about what has meaning for us. It is also about striking a balance between our own needs and other’s needs. Sharing the love, creating unforgettable moments, but also taking care of ourselves and appreciating who we have become, who we are today and the relationships with our loved ones.
Hope you have a wonderful and meaningful Holiday Season!