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Thriving During the Holiday Season

By Sally E. Smith

Before the last vestiges of Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing have disappeared from the refrigerator, the howling winds of the December holiday season threaten to sweep us away. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice, it’s easy to succumb to holiday pressures.

According to a survey conducted last year by the American Psychological Association (APA), “Americans list lack of money (61%), the pressures of gift giving (42%), lack of time (34%) and credit card debt (23%) as top causes of holiday stress. Survey results also show that younger Americans are more worried about lack of money (81%) and gift giving (54%) compared to people over the age of 35.”

Although the APA didn’t specifically survey plus-size women, anecdotal evidence suggests that we deal with additional types of stress during the holiday season. Those of us who grew up as large kids may have family members who belittled us or berated us for our size. If that’s the case, then holiday family gatherings can create new opportunities to open old wounds. Those of us with body image issues may decline invitations to office parties or other holiday gatherings because we don’t have the perfect cocktail dress or because we don’t want to be compared to our thinner counterparts. Those of us with low self-esteem may buy extravagant gifts that we can’t afford in order to “pay back” people who have befriended us.

The good news is that holiday stress isn’t inevitable, and that we’re not destined to wake up on New Year’s Day with an emotional hangover that lingers on into early spring. You can begin to create a holiday season that is fulfilling and joyful by considering these issues:

1. Forget “perfection” and go with “good enough.” Perfect holidays may be depicted on greeting cards and in store displays, but this is the real world. If your cookies aren’t decorated to perfection or your earrings don’t perfectly match your dress, it’s okay. Trying to live up to impossibly high standards is simply exhausting.

2. Rethink traditions. Perhaps you’re thrilled to host your annual holiday brunch, but grudgingly go to Aunt Betsy’s house the week before New Year’s and half-heartedly exchange gifts with distant relatives. Determine which traditions you treasure and those you dread, and propose changing the latter. You may be surprised to learn that Aunt Betsy was hesitant to admit that she prefers a summertime visit.

3. Supplement your family of origin with your family of choice. Contrary to the popular adage, you can choose your family. If holiday gatherings with your family of origin are too painful to endure, create a family of close, supportive friends and celebrate with them.

4. Learn to say “no.” The holiday season is a time of giving, but giving should come from the heart. If you don’t have the time or energy to fulfill someone’s request, “no” is always an acceptable answer. The earth won’t stop spinning on its axis if you…

5. …Set good boundaries. In addition to setting limits with others, define boundaries for yourself. This might mean developing a holiday budget and sticking to it so that you don’t have to deal with a financial nightmare when the New Year rolls around. It may mean getting enough sleep each night to stay healthy through the holidays. It could mean carving out an hour or two each week to engage in activities that rejuvenate and refresh you, so that you’ll have the stamina you need to make it through the holiday season.
By consciously examining our expectations and feelings, and then making choices that support our well-being, we can do more than survive the holiday season – we can truly thrive.

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