Enjoy the Holidays Again: Overcoming Fatigue, Financial Drain and Family Drama
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If only the holidays were as idyllic as Norman Rockwell’s paintings depicted them to be.
In reality, however, the most common modern-day holiday tradition is stress brought on by fatigue, financial drain and family drama.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By recognizing and adjusting your unproductive holiday attitudes, behaviors — and even traditions — now, you can develop new approaches that will result in a happier, more relaxed and fulfilling holiday season.
Reflect on Years Past to Help Enjoy the Holidays of the Future
The first step toward greater peace, fulfillment and energy during the holidays is to take time to think about years past. Are there certain traditions — whether cultural, family or your own — that you really enjoy, or that seem to pose challenges year after year?
It might seem scary — even impossible — to make modifications, however big or small, to preprogrammed ways of doing things, particularly at this time of year. But doing so can be extremely liberating, enhancing your ability to enjoy the holidays.
Next, create a new holiday vision. Fast forward to January. Pretend you are looking at photos of your holiday. You notice that they are slightly different from — better than — years past.
- What do you want to see in the photos? List the top three things that you will want to have captured in the photos.
- How do you want to feel when you look at the photos?
- Looking at these photos, what is the one word you would use to characterize this year’s holidays?
Now, keeping in mind your new vision for this season, let’s explore some more specific strategies for tackling three of the biggest holiday stressors: fatigue, finances and family drama.
Holiday Fatigue: An Avoidable Syndrome
Have you ever spent so much time and energy preparing for the party that by the time the guests arrived, you were too tired to enjoy it? The holiday season is like one long party, with preparations that often start before Thanksgiving.
By planning ahead, you can comfortably pace yourself, preventing holiday fatigue. Not only will you enhance your ability to enjoy the holidays, you can also set the stage for creating a realistic wellness vision for the year ahead.
- Savor the journey — See what happens when you eliminate the phrase “have to” from your vocabulary, substituting “get to” in its place: You no longer “have to” go shopping/hang the lights/bake cookies, you “get to” go shopping/hang the lights/bake cookies! Bear in mind that all holiday preparations are your choice. Find ways to turn energy-zapping obligations into energizing activities by asking a friend to join you on a shopping date or appointing your 8-year-old niece to be your new baking assistant. Savor the moments that make up the entire season.
- Say no — For many of us, it’s easier to keep the peace by doing someone a favor or even accepting an invitation when we would really rather decline. Particularly during this time of year, where time, energy and money are particularly tight, selectively saying “no” may be the biggest favor you can do for yourself and your family. Before saying “yes,” examine your motives and anticipate how you might feel after completing the favor or attending the party. Is this something you really want to do/attend — and can you afford the time/energy?
- Enlist help — We often feel like we have to do it all, feeling guilty shelling out money to pay others to do certain tasks we’re capable of handling on our own. Let go of the judgment! Ease your burden by hiring out some of your least favorite holiday tasks with the help of an online service like TaskRabbit or a neighborhood teenager looking to earn a little extra cash. While most people are looking to conserve spending during this time of year, you will likely find that paying someone else in order to make more efficient use of your time is a prudent investment.
- Maintain healthy habits — Our willpower to make prudent food choices, keep up our workout routines and make sure we get ample sleep is tested at this time of year more than any other. From holiday parties to coffee shops offering seasonal specialty drinks, temptations seem to crop up everywhere we turn. Indulge! Enjoy! It’s all part of the season. But that doesn’t mean throwing in the towel on all the good habits you’ve developed throughout the year. Protect your immune system — and your energy levels — by taking extra good care of yourself during this time of year.
- Create a timetable — Setting reasonable target dates for yourself, divide the holiday season into manageable chunks to make it less overwhelming and more enjoyable. Do whatever you can ahead of time — shop, order, decorate, wrap, cook/freeze — to avoid last-minute frenzy. Work in reverse order. Think about what you’ll save for the day of a big family celebration, what you’ll choose to do the day before (set the table, clear a space in your coat closet, etc.) and how you’ll pace other holiday-related activities and tasks in the days and weeks prior. If you stay one step ahead of the game, you’ll never have to play catch-up. Imagine the calm …
Prevent Financial Strain
The willpower we often have to muster at the holiday party buffet table is nothing compared to the strength we have to find when it comes to controlling holiday spending.
Planning ahead is the key to avoiding financial strain during and after the holidays.
If it’s not the etiquette experts telling us what we “should” be tipping our dog groomers in order to show ample appreciation, it’s the kids with mile-long wish lists that can make us feel like it’s never enough. (If you suffer from financial anxiety, don’t be surprised if you feel it intensify around the holidays.)
The first step to keeping holiday spending in check is to create a realistic holiday budget. The next (and harder) step is to stick to that budget. The following strategies can help you accomplish both:
- When planning your holiday budget, include all gifts you want to purchase or donate, decorations, travel expenses, and groceries for parties and special family dinners. Don’t forget all the incidentals — wrapping paper, stamps, paper plates or treats for the office — that may not seem like a lot on their own, but can add up quickly.
- Budgeting for gifts can be tricky, particularly if you have limited funds. Some experts recommend taking either a narrow-and-deep gift-buying approach, buying generous gifts for a few people, or a wide-and-shallow gift-buying approach, buying smaller gifts for more people.
- Retailers tend to aggressively compete for your business by offering a variety of sales and promotions at this time of the year. Use price-comparison apps to simplify holiday shopping and make your budget go farther. Apps such as ShopSavvy, ShopAdvisor and DealCatcher can help you find the best deal, get price-drop alerts, and access special deals and coupons to use in stores and online.
- Keep in mind that putting holiday purchases on a credit card is still spending money. Accumulating debt by charging too much at the holidays is a recipe for financial trouble. If you put purchases on a credit card, account for them in your holiday budget, and pay for them when the bill is due. Alternatively, consider using a mobile debit account such as Moven or Simple that allows you to pay and track your spending as you go.
- Oftentimes, spending quality time with someone makes the best gift — and it can help ease the short-term financial burden. Consider giving someone a personalized gift certificate that you create for an excursion (perhaps to a play, a museum or an outdoor activity that you both enjoy) a few months after the holidays. This “IOU” gives you both a shared experience to look forward to once the holidays are over.
Rather than worrying about whether or not you’ve spent “enough,” focus on making gift-giving more meaningful — for yourself and the recipients on your gift list. The best gifts are the ones that you select or make with the other person in mind. It really is “the thought that counts” — and that connects us at the holidays. What you spend matters less than the amount of thought you put into it.
Comparing Versus Connecting
The inclination to compare ourselves to others — and to come up short — is especially strong at the holidays. From seeing television commercials that make it seem like a car wrapped in bow is a typical gift to hearing your co-worker boasting about the A-list New Year’s Eve party invitation he just received, it’s easy to feel outdone at this time of year.
But the real holiday spirit is embodied in connecting with others. When we focus on emotional authenticity, we allow ourselves to trust and to be trusted, to hear and to be heard, to be afraid and to offer strength, to laugh and to cry.
In building and nurturing relationships based on this type of connection, we open the door to life’s greatest riches, providing satisfaction beyond comparison.
Downplay the Family Drama
Some people find spending time with their families of origin a richly rewarding emotional experience — but for others, the holidays are fraught with challenges. Despite years of personal growth in other relationships, family dynamics can often catapult us back to our often-unhealthy childhood roles — the scapegoat, the aggressor, the placater, etc. — particularly if there was any type of emotional dysfunction in the home.
When spending time around family, try to be aware of the triggers that may cause you to regress to old, non-productive patterns of behavior. (A life coach can help you explore and understand your triggers and develop ways to powerfully shift how you respond to them.) Bring your best adult self to the family gathering, remembering who you’ve become — not who you may have been.
If your family situation has changed in some way — whether through divorce or loss of a loved one — let yourself be open to new and different ways of celebrating the holidays this year. If you’ve suffered the loss of a parent or other family member, honor them by sharing stories or preparing one of their “famous” recipes.
If you turn down invitations, opting to spend a quiet holiday evening alone, be sure to have a back-up plan in case you have a last-minute change of heart. Holidays can be particularly challenging during times of transition. Most of your friends and family would happily welcome you into their home if you just say the word — being respectful of your space, they just don’t want to pressure you if you’ve already declined an invitation. It’s OK to call them back and say you’ve changed your mind!
Managing Sibling Rivalry at the Holidays
Before they reach 12 months old, children exhibit a highly sophisticated social understanding, according to extensive sibling research conducted by developmental psychologist Judy Dunn. Her research found that, from early on, siblings are attuned to the fairness of the emotional exchanges between themselves, their siblings and their parents.
Moreover, Dunn’s longitudinal studies found that children who felt that their siblings received more attention from their mothers than they did became more worried, anxious or depressed. They incorporated these feelings of deprivation into their self-evaluations.
It’s no wonder sibling rivalry can follow us well into adulthood, often rearing its head at the holidays.
Following are a few strategies that can help put an end to sibling rivalry, according to psychologist Jeanne Safer, author of "Cain's Legacy: Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy and Regret."
- Think about your sibling outside the context of your relationship. What positive qualities does he or she possess?
- Make a peace offering. Extend an invitation or offer to do a favor.
- Consider your sibling’s point of view — without becoming defensive.
- If you’ve done something to offend your sibling, apologize.
A New Holiday Approach
As you prepare for this year’s holidays, notice how your thoughts impact your moods and behaviors. In addition to modifying how you do things this year, is there any way to change patterns of thinking that no longer serve you? How can you shift your focus, so that you enjoy the holiday season to its fullest?
Sometimes an increased awareness can be a powerful enough catalyst for change. By taking a proactive approach to this year’s holidays, you may be giving yourself the greatest gift of all.
Happy Holidays from the entire JMA team!
We wish you a holiday season full of peace, joy and love — and all the best in the New Year.