For many of us, the holidays are a paradoxical time that can be the most joyful and enjoyable while being simultaneously the most stressful and disappointing. In this two-part article, we try to gain a broader perspective on the holiday season by breaking down the challenges associated with the holiday season and offering specific strategies for managing some of the usual holiday stressors.
In Part 1 of this article, we found that some of the challenges associated with the holiday season include the disruption of routines, the weight of interpersonal expectations, and the physical limitations of winter. We also agreed that one of the most important things you can do, before anything else, is admitting that the holiday season poses a challenge.
Upon concluding that it’s important to commit to the taking on the challenge of having a happy holiday season, in Part 2 let’s now take a look at some of the specific strategies you can employ in order to surmount the challenges of the holiday season and keep in mind what’s most important.
Practical Challenges: Remember Hofstadter’s Law
The first major category of challenges posed by the holidays are practical challenges. This category includes things like losing time because of winter weather, increased commutes, or general over-commitment, but it also includes the physical challenges associated with decreased Vitamin D, difficulty exercising, and change of diet.
One of the simplest and most effective strategies when dealing with these practical challenges is to follow a rule coined by scientist and author Doug Hofstadter, who wrote: “It always takes longer than you think it will take, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”
By simply allowing yourself more time than you would otherwise feel necessary, you can prevent yourself from feeling trapped or disappointed by the inability to maintain the same type of timeliness that may be feasible at other times of the year.
By extension, not only should you expect to take more time than expected for practical, day-to-day affairs, but you should also try your best to accept and celebrate the differences that the holiday season brings. It is said that there is a season for everything, and by becoming aware of the unique challenges that the holiday season poses, many of the physical limitations can become transformed into wonderful opportunities.
In the spring and summer months, both the natural world as well as our own bodies extend outward, growing and becoming strong and vibrant. But without the winter, there is no opportunity to have spring. In this sense, consider the practical challenges associated with winter and the holiday season as the inward coiling of the spring that is entirely necessary for it to explode outward in the spring and summer.
Personal Challenges: Try to Manage Expectations
The theme of managing expectations reverberates not only through our individual thinking about the practical challenges that the holiday season poses for everyone, but also becomes even more important in the interpersonal world.
Because when we place expectations on our own time, it is only our own schedule that can become frustrated. But when we place expectations on other people – whether it be to act in a certain way, to uphold certain traditions, to make certain choices, or even just to be a particular way – then we have the potential to reciprocally frustrate both ourselves and another person, creating a negative spiral.
For example, the holidays often bring together friends or family members that do not spend very much time together throughout the year. If one individual expects another to treat them a certain way or to have made certain life choices throughout the year, and the other person picks up on these constraints and disapproving attitudes, the result can be mutual dissatisfaction and mounting resentment.
The solution is to do your best to forget about what you want – whether it’s something as simple as how you want an event to play out, or as complex as how you want another person to live their life. Save up your feelings and transform them into New Year’s resolutions, to be activated throughout the year. But in the moment of the holidays, try your best to simply be thankful for all of the people you have in your life, and to love them as unconditionally as you are able.
Private Challenges: Give Yourself Grace
Not only should you try to love other people as unconditionally as possible, however, but you should also try to offer yourself this level of grace.
In addition to the relatively surface-level and inert annoyances on the practical and personal levels described above, in some cases the holiday season can bring about serious private challenges that we may not want to share or show anyone. The revival of painful family bonds or the difficulties of facing a person who has wronged us or who we have wronged in the past can reopen old wounds that have just had the opportunity over the course of the year to heal with time.
In the case of these difficult personal challenges, remember how infrequently the calendar aligns to bring these situations upon you. Remember that you are not well-practiced at handling some of the deep private difficulties that the holiday season can prompt. There is no reason you should expect yourself to be able to handle these difficulties on your own.
By maintaining an awareness of what sorts of private difficulties can be activated during the holiday season, we become able to face the difficulties more directly. We may not need to address the issue explicitly, and it’s never required to engage in vulnerable conversations with other people, but at the very least we will not feel the need to run from the difficulties and hide.
In summary, when we can accept ourselves, accept others, and accept all of the practical, personal, and private challenges associated with the holiday season, we become more able to set them aside and focus on all of the things that we have to be grateful for, and all of the individuals in our lives who better and sharpen us.
By remembering some simple tips like Hofstadter’s Law, the power of expectations, and the importance of grace and vulnerability, you can help keep your holiday season as joyous and stress-free as possible.