I am sure some of my fellow introverts understand (and possibly agree) that there is a potentially stressful time of the year that falls around Halloween and doesn’t end until after New Year’s Day. This time of the year is affectionately referred to as “The Holidays” by the masses.
Contrary to the nauseating number of Hallmark movies, store ads, and social media updates: it is okay to not be a fan of The Holidays. There are plenty of reasons why the holiday season can feel so stressful. But when the stress outweighs the merriment and revelry; The Holidays can feel absolutely dreadful.
At some point between late adolescents and early adulthood I began noticing that I was letting stress suck all the joy and fun out of The Holidays for me. I used to have a hate/hate relationship with the holidays. I wasn’t all Grinchy and Scrooge McDuck about the holidays; it was just an incredibly stressful time of the year for me. During my early adulthood I realized…um, this is NOT getting better. My negativity about The Holidays went from stress, to loathing, to an ugly kind of hate. I realized that I needed to come up with a plan. A plan that supported me, my introverted (and highly sensitive) state of being and but also worked for my growing family. A balanced plan. Once I had my plan, I put it into motion. The Holidays felt less miserable. And now, I actually *gasp* sort of look forward to them. Weird, right?!
I invite all the introverts to start think about entering “The Holidays” with a plan. Having a plan will help to decrease your overall stress. By creating and implementing a solid plan you will benefit from 1) practicing to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, 2) actively assessing your needs and 3) then putting all that new info into action so the holidays don’t become a 2-3 month long trip to the bottom of a pit of despair.
So, how can you survive this holiday season?
Get honest with yourself.
Awareness is key. Start to really understand yourself (your thoughts, your emotions, your needs, etc) and get clear on what makes you tick. If you are wondering if you are an Introvert, check out some blogs or articles that help you understand that these are your superpowers, not flaws or defects. Here is some info on introversion https://www.verywellmind.com/signs-you-are-an-introvert-2795427
Journaling is a great technique to help us understand what is really going on inside our mind and our heart. Grab a notebook and pen or fire up your laptop; either way, start journaling about The Holidays and see what comes up. Don’t edit or judge your thoughts and feelings, just observe and reflect. Are there any themes? Does something stick out as problematic?
Get clear on why you aren’t a fan of “The Holidays”. If you can clarify what it is the root of your disdain for all-things-holidays you can combat it with a little self-love. And in the process probably avert a little stress. Stuff to think about:
Do the holidays cause you stress because of the emphasis that is placed on gift giving and you are in debt up to the gills? Remind yourself an act of giving is completely unrelated to a price tag and besides all those macramé plant holders you make are a hit with your great aunts!
If The Holidays are a reminder that you are without an ideal family, partner, child, pet or whatever makes The Holidays feel “whole” in your mind; take some time to evaluate what you have in this moment that makes you smile and feel complete. Spend a little mental energy on taking time to make a gratitude list. Check out my blog on Gratitude if you are not sure what I mean by this https://riversjourneycounseling.com/gratitude-giving-thanks-beyond-thanksgiving/ Remember: what you focus on…grows. So, try to focus on the good not the bad.
Are the holidays a reminder that you are still uncertain about your beliefs, values or needs? Spend some time thinking about what your beliefs, values and needs. What are they? How they can be supported during The Holidays? Give yourself a mantra or positive affirmation to remind yourself that you are a work in progress and expect friends and family to honor that process. An example might be: “I am worthy of love and acceptance”, “When I become stressed, I will step away”, “I bring positivity to those I know”, “I will not dwell on the past”, “Today I will treat myself with love, patience and kindness”.
Compromise and celebrate your own way.
Plan your calendar around your energy and interests. Love a good party, but are completely drained of 3 days in a row of socializing? It’s okay to honor your own rhythms and needs and politely decline an invite or ask to reschedule to a time that works better for you. Even in the face of “but it’s tradition” or “we have always done it this way” or “the holidays wouldn’t be the same without such and such”; find a way to compromise. Explore what celebrating your own way means. What would be your ideal way to honor a holiday? How would you like to celebrate? Who do you want to spend your holiday with? Where would be the ideal setting? And for the introvert who burns out quickly in social situations; how long is enough time celebrating? Voice your opinion gently but firmly to family and friends and tweak plans until they feel like win-win solutions.
Make time for down time.
Look at your calendar beyond your typical to-do-list. Pencil in breaks for yourself. Introverts need down time to recharge their battery. Give yourself permission for scheduling out down time. And during that down time squeeze in some self-care. What recharges your battery? What activities do you find relaxing and enjoyable? Make time to do those activities—minimally weekly but daily is ideal; especially if The Holidays aren’t your thing. Not only are you showing yourself some love and but also sending your subconscious the message, “HEY! My needs matter too”. The by-product of down time and self-care is having more time to be present, fully engaging and open to plans with other human beings.
Get back to the basics—on a regular basis.
You need to fill your own tank before you are left running on fumes. Check your internal fuel gauge often and fill as needed. Consistency is the key. What keeps you going through the good times and bad? My top three are 1) getting enough sleep, 2) balancing my time between me (there is that down time/self-care thing again), my family/friends, and work, and 3) meditating. Take some time to think about your basics and do them daily. Other examples of back to the basics? Eating properly and not skipping meals, journaling, walking in nature, spending time with your kitties, exercise, crafting/creating art, reading listening/playing music, connecting with your Higher Power, the Universe or God, self-Reiki, etc. (hint hint: these are also self-care strategies as well)
Make sure you are catching all the Zzzz’s you need.
You may remember this from my back to basics list. Long gone are the days that most of us can function well on 4-6 hours of sleep every night. Good solid sleep is vital to keeping our body and mind healthy. Need more info or strategies for improving your sleep? Check out https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency for some great info on sleep! Get honest with yourself about how much sleep you actually need to function like a normal human—7, 8, 10hrs? Sometimes introverts need more sleep than extroverts. Go back and look at your schedule, are you making sure you are getting enough sleep?
Skip this if being hydrated is already a priority. However, if you are thinking, when was the last time I drank a glass of water…keep reading. Target your water intake to about half your weight in ounces (So, if you weigh 120lbs , shoot for 60oz of water daily). Water helps keep your appetite regulated, aids in digestion, lubricates the joints, assists in regulating our body temps, keeps you from retaining water, keeps you alert, and will keep all your internal systems running smoothly (flushes out toxins and bacteria and carries nutrients within your body), a bonus—keeps your skin looking fresh. Introverts needs all cylinders firing to make it through The Holidays and water helps keep you going. P.S. Coffee doesn’t count as a glass of water.
And BTW, watch your alcohol consumption.
Booze also doesn’t count as a glass of water. Even if it is a domestic beer marketed to “active” adults. I know too many Introverts who rely on a few drinks to “loosen” themselves up in social situations; trying to “take the edge” off. Or those who tell me they need alcohol to cope with The Holidays and holiday related events. Again, take an honest look at your alcohol consumption. Is it problematic? Has anyone every complained about your drinking? Is it hard to limit yourself to less than 3 drinks per occasion? Have you experienced any negative consequences because of alcohol? Drinking alcohol to alleviate social anxiety can be a very slippery slope for some people. In the moment you may feel more relaxed, but even moderate use can have negative impact on our mind, body and spirit. We can say or do things we wished we hadn’t, alcohol disrupts our bodies ability to have a good night’s sleep, and our anxiety and/or depression can increase after the sedating effects are gone.
And while I am on my soapbox, this isn’t the time to practice your skills of being your own personal pharmacist. Just because your Aunt Sally always has an endless pill bottle of Benzo’s (think Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, etc.) doesn’t mean it’s time for you to dip into her supply to relax. And don’t even think about helping yourself to little Johnny’s Adderall to give you that boost for a shopping marathon or that long drive home from Ohio. Just don’t.
Energy, relaxation, and being comfortable in social situations comes from our plan for managing our time and meeting our needs using healthy strategies.
Food. Glorious food.
Let’s head to another thing that makes The Holidays–The Holidays—Food! The Holidays are notorious for overconsumption of all things heavy, sugary, and just plain fattening. Pies, cookies, and all things delicious may taste so dang good while we are eating, but for some of us overconsumption is a recipe for emotional and physical disaster. Some of us are more sensitive to sugar and can experience an emotional roller coaster stemming from our sugar highs and subsequent crashes. If you are one of those people who gives yourself the green light to eat like crap during The Holidays, “because it’s the holidays”, and then experience huge regrets by January 1, you need a better plan! Manage your portions, avoiding certain foods (like me and my foe–gluten!) that are problematic, don’t skip meals, and increase healthier or more balanced meals in between parties or events. If you are on a special diet, alert the host/hostess of the party of your dietary concerns or bring something to share that is on your “nice” list so you can avoid all the foods on the “naughty” list. Having a plan will keep you on track and feeling like you are in control and it’s a great way to avoid regret later.
Send out an S.O.S.
Introverts—find your voice. Give a head’s up to your partner, close buddy, family member or that wonderful ally that without a doubt “gets” you and always has your back. They need to know that if/when you hit a wall and need a boost you will be reaching out to them. Or better yet…ask them to check in with you. No matter how silly or seemingly embarrassing it may seem to ask another adult to check in you; do it anyways. First, you are hopefully picking someone who genuinely cares about you and would never consider this to be a burden or ridiculous request (if you are picking someone who responds this way—you and I need to have a serious talk about who you are choosing to let into your inner circle of confidants). Second, sometimes when we are so stuck in our sad little pit of despair reaching out may not even be a blip on our radar. So, our clear-headed friend or family member checking in periodically can help us get back on track.
When in doubt…seek outside help.
I can almost guarantee that there are plenty of wonderful therapists in your area. A solid therapist can guide and support you as you learn to put your needs at the top of your list or at least pretty darn close during stressful times in your life. Don’t let people-pleasing or being too accommodating ruin your holidays. Look over websites or professional listings (such as on Psychology Today or Good Therapy). Tight on time and worried about finding time to drive to a therapist’s office? Try finding a therapist who also offers Telemental Health Services. You would connect to them via a secure, web-based platform in the privacy of your own home or your office.
Hopefully these tips can help you to sort out why “The Holidays” can create so much stress for introverts. Remember to plan, check your plan and then implement your plan. But be gentle on yourself. Change takes time. Feel free to reach out to me for help with creating a plan and for support to successfully implement your new plan at firstname.lastname@example.org I work with clients in my St. Charles office and via Telemental Health Services.