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Navigating Through the Holidays

Navigating Through the Holidays

Posted by: Patient Advocate Summer Katz, M.A., NCC, LMHC

Greetings Blog Readers! Well, it looks like the holiday season is here; descending upon us each year like clockwork. What does this mean for maintaining our efforts to cope and deal with the regular stressors of life? How are we maintaining, with the added components of planning for family gatherings and travel, or making time to find the right gifts for your loved ones? There are many things that can occur during this time that can also bring heightened emotions due to unresolved grief, loss, and/or experiences of unwanted limitations based on missing what you once had or even unintentional comparisons to those around you.

Hospice organizations regularly talk about how the holidays and winter months actually can bring about increased depression and anxiety due to the annual reminder of a deceased loved one. The concept of loss is also very relevant to those of us who are impacted by chronic medical conditions. We can easily revert back to thinking reactively, impulsively, or express frustration due to the added stressors of “getting it all done” within the allotted timeframe.

Living life with cystic fibrosis, for example, means that I have to remember to stay on course with medications and applicable treatments, in addition to attending regularly scheduled or even last-minute doctor’s appointments. Factors such as eating healthy, engaging in physical exercise and activity, as well as obtaining adequate sleep are also key to maintaining good health for all of us (with or without chronic medical needs). And, they’re all important to keep in mind before diving into the holiday season.

So now, the question becomes: In combining the extra holiday activities with the routine schedule of life, how do we successfully navigate our emotional as well as behavioral coping efforts while adhering to all of the necessary factors to maintaining good health?

My first recommendation to best engage in the added “juggle” during these busy seasons of life is to remind yourself to “slow down.” Through personal reflection, each of us can create healthy boundaries to emphasize “me” as the first priority. This means that those original tasks and factors that I identified as important for me and my self care continue to be essential, even when planning to adjust the schedule for family gatherings and the joyful (or for some, obligatory) gift exchange.

Another recommendation, which may take more reflection, is to take some time to consider just how you are defining those added holiday activities. For example, I just referenced the fact that, for some, a gift exchange, travel or gatherings can feel like an obligation. In these cases, the resulting experiences might be based on unwanted emotional expectations that are often placed on these activities.

The fact is– that we are all impacted by a variety of factors in life, some chronic. Many may be unresolved grievances, or even perceptions about our relationships. Because of this, it may not be easy to adjust our view of certain circumstances, but it is possible to, for example, rethink participation in a family gathering from being an “obligation” to believing that it can be more about the joy and the altruistic experience of giving or welcoming love and connection.

However, this can become a vicious, ironic cycle, because where some people struggle to connect and allow the togetherness to be joyous, it can be just as difficult to focus on putting “me” first. It is about finding a balance between the family connection and what you feel you need to do to navigate and maintain your own personal needs.

What about considering the potential outcome that your family gatherings can be about increased support for your needs? Potentially, the holidays can be a great opportunity to take steps to reach out to reduce loneliness (refer back to the “Chronic Illness and Loneliness” blog) by engaging in and receiving the love and support of others.

I would also like to encourage you to be open minded to the concept of family gatherings, because this does not only include your family of origin, but it can also be your groups of friends and loved ones – which I like to refer to as “family of the heart.”

There are so many added stressors during the holidays that it’s really up to each of us to reflect on how we will react when these stressors arrive. This is not to minimize or reduce the overall difficulty of these situations in our life, yet simply to say that we can all experience a little gratitude and joy by acknowledging those things and people that are and have been there to benefit who we are, what we want, and ultimately, the efforts we’re taking toward where we wish to go.

Even in reflection of the loss or losses that so many of us experience, it continues to be important to participate in our routine health and self care to navigate the season effectively. So, perhaps by adjusting a “Bah-Humbug” reaction that can unfortunately reduce our efforts to maintain good health, to embracing the positive messages of hope and joy brought to us during the holiday season, we might actually experience that very hope and joy! May your holidays truly be filled with MUCH joy, hope and happiness!

Click below for a holiday bonus article, “Surviving the Holidays” to SHARE with the caregiver/s in your family so they may embrace a “holiday to remember” with that love, joy and true connection!

From the “Fearless Caregiver Holiday Guide” by Today’s Caregiver:

Summer Katz, M.A., NCC, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor

*Disclaimer: This blog is provided for informational purposes only (including brief topic exploration or reflection) and should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health or medical treatment.



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