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By Hannah Mosser, MA, LPC

I don’t know about you, but somewhere around Thanksgiving week, I start playing Christmas music (in my car, in my kitchen, all over the place), which continues to play repeatedly in my mind until mid-January or so. So far this year, Andy Williams’ Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season has taken residence in my head. The part that I keep hearing, is:

It’s the holiday season (the holiday season)
So hoop-de-do and hickory dock
And don’t forget to hang up your sock…

It’s a very cheery song, so I can’t complain that this is the one that has been standing out to me so far this season. Having said that, a conversation I have with clients often (and something I reflect on for myself) is about the busyness of the holiday season and how distracting it can be from what is truly important. Even our Christmas music can add to this idea that we need to be keeping ourselves busy and occupied with seasonal festivities. What do I mean by this? Great question.

In my own life, “the busy” can look like making sure I’m buying semi-meaningful gifts for loved ones, it looks like an unlikely desire to bake Christmas treats for my neighbors, it looks like making sure every gift is wrapped to perfection (only to have my cats preemptively tear into the nicely wrapped presents!). I often hear my clients speak to the pressure that they put on themselves this time of year, for a family get-together; wanting to make sure everyone is included and that their supposed expectations are met; feeling guilty about the amount of money they will spend on gifts for their kids; needing to hire a cleaner because they don’t have time to clean or organize the home themselves.

I could continue with additional examples, but I imagine some of this resonates with the internal dialogue that you experience at this time of year. I think many of us get caught up in the chaos and expectations of the holiday season, without pausing to evaluate what really matters, or how to put up boundaries that allow us to better focus on what we truly value. So what does this look like?

Identifying your own priorities in this season

Let’s break this down a bit. How do we identify priorities? I think it is helpful to name what might matter, so let’s form a non-exhaustive list:

– Quality Time with Loved Ones
– Christmas Traditions
– Volunteering
– Donating Time or Money
– Purchasing or Creating Thoughtful Gifts
– Decorating One’s Home Festively

Once you have identified what is most important in this season, it allows you to form expectations for yourself that are realistic.

Forming realistic expectations for yourself during the holidays

Forming realistic expectations for yourself looks like a lot of checking in with yourself. I talk with clients often about their internal dialogue, or the “voice inside your head.” The voice in your head can often sound critical, telling you that you are not enough, your house is too small, you didn’t spend enough money on those gifts, what if someone made better cookies than you did, and so on. This voice is harsh, and it can create too high or unrealistic expectations.

The good news is, we can learn to speak back to this critical voice. We can choose to say that we are enough, we can say that the house has plenty of space and will be increasingly cozy as friends and family fill it up, we can be content with spending lesser money on gifts and giving more money to a charity, and we can determine that the cookies you made are in fact, delicious! I will say that this is easier said than done, as it takes a while to build up a more positive internal dialogue, but it is amazing how much kinder we can be to ourselves when we learn to build ourselves up as we would a friend, rather than tearing ourselves down.

Setting boundaries for yourself in order to protect your priorities

Boundaries! Clients get uncomfortable when I mention boundaries, as this word can have a negative connotation attached to it — as though it is rude or unkind to say no for the purpose of caring for yourself, protecting your time, your priorities, etc. Boundaries are your friend!

Boundaries are important even more this time of year. I imagine that you, like me, are human. This means that you simply cannot do everything or be everything to everyone in your life. If you attempt this, it will likely be at the expense of your own well-being, mental, physical, or emotional health; not worth it. A boundary is simply a limit and it is protective. Think back to that list of priorities — boundaries help you uphold what you have identified as most important to you in this season of life.

Getting started

If some, or any, of these words describe your experience this time of year (or any time throughout the year), please reach out to one of the therapists here at Lime Tree Counseling. We are passionate about equipping you with new tools that will aid in a more balanced, manageable and enjoyable life. Some of the services provided include trauma counseling, anxiety counseling, addiction counseling and Christian counseling. Request an appointment now and get started working on a new you.