The Holiday season is portrayed as a time of joy and togetherness. But for many of us the holidays can mean navigating a range of strained relationships and social anxieties. I spend the holidays with three families; my family, my partner’s dad’s family and my partner’s mum’s family. It can be extremely draining. It becomes difficult to manage self-care when everyone wants a piece of you. This can be especially true when family members do not respect your boundaries surrounding your personal life or mental health.
On that note, I’ve had an especially challenging year in terms of my mental health. As such, there are many members of my family who I haven’t seen since this time last year. It’s not that I don’t care about them. I just so often don’t have the energy for their questions about where my life is going. It can become humiliating and hurtful. Far too many times my family have seen me discussing my grandiose ideas while manic only to throw them back in my face the next time they see me. Of course this is not their intent (at least I hope not) but it makes the holiday season difficult for me. Whilst mentally preparing myself for these holiday challenges I decided to share with you some of my hacks for surviving the holidays.
Set and maintain boundaries
This is very important for me. And also very difficult. Because a lot of the work I do involves disclosing about my mental heath people often assume the topic is always up for grabs. But it isn’t. When I am at a family dinner I really don’t want to talk about my mental illness beyond the basics of ‘I’m fine, on the mend, you don’t have to worry’. I really don’t want to get into it. Not because I am ashamed but because that is not why I am there. So if someone tries to pursue the topic I just say something like ‘I appreciate your concern but can I don’t feel comfortable discussing that right now. Can we talk about something else?’ And then I’ll offer an alternative subject.
Don’t listen to food/body shamers
Boundaries are also important when it comes to discussing food. At holiday dinners people can make comments about my weight or how much I am eating. These food-shaming remarks are often veiled as loving concern but really come from a place of fatphobia. If someone makes a comment about me going back for seconds or how much dessert I am having I’ll respond with ‘I eat to nourish my body and soul and right now my body and soul want dessert’. If they respond favourably, I use the opportunity to discuss intuitive eating with them. But usually, they quieten down.
Be honest but kind
In all instances described above it can be really tempting to yell or get emotional. Like it or not, tone policing is a thing. It is important to remember that people will be more receptive to your boundaries and message if you deliver them calmly and consistently.
Accept yourself where you are at
I think the anxiety of seeing family members I haven’t seen for a year leads to me performing a moral inventory of sorts. I become quite judgemental of any progress I have made in the last 12 months and question if it is enough. This is where I remind myself that I am always worthy and always enough. As much as I would like their approval, I don’t need it. I only need my own approval. I hold that close to my heart over the holidays
If all else fails, have an escape plan and spend the days playing with the kids. The kids wont judge you and everyone else will be happy to have them occupied.
Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate, from me to you! I hope these tips make your holiday season just a tad more cheerful.