I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday season. As a young child, holidays were a time for getting together with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. As I got older, it was sad to see that tradition end as relatives died, moved away or were busy with their own families. In high school I worked many Christmas Eves in a department store. I recall customers running in at the last minute to pick up “something, anything” for someone who they had forgotten. They were not in the holiday spirit and were anything but merry! I distinctly remember feeling sad and empty during those times and like the true meaning of Christmas had been lost.
After college I worked at a residential facility for children who had been removed from their families due to abuse, neglect or delinquent behavior. Many of them had no one with whom to spend their holidays so would stay at the residence. As a supervisor it was my job to create the staff work schedule. Not only did my heart break for those kids who had nowhere to go, but I felt just as badly for the staff who had to miss celebrating the holidays with their own families because somebody had to stay with the kids.
Now, as a Clinical Social Worker I see many of my clients struggle during the holidays. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones, some are plagued by memories of terrible holidays past and some are so depressed that it is impossible for them to find any joy in the holiday season at all. For many years, I have let all of these events dictate my own feelings about the holidays. Each year I would dread their arrival, not enjoy them while they were here and was overjoyed to see them end. Over the past few years, however, I have changed the way I think about the holidays. Instead of fighting them, I have tried to accept and embrace them and have tried to find a way to make them meaningful to me. I have done this in a number of different ways:
For the past few years my colleagues, my sister and I have “adopted” a family from the local domestic violence agency in our town. We each buy presents for a member of the family and donate them. It makes me feel good to know that a family who has been through a traumatic experience can now find some joy in the holidays.
In addition, I have stopped exchanging presents with many of my relatives. Instead, we make a donation to a charity of each other’s choosing. It may seem silly not to just donate to our own charities, but I like the fact that it forces me to make a donation to a charity that I would never think to donate to on my own. It also helps me to learn about and understand the causes that are important to my relatives and close to their hearts.
Using my senses
Even though I may not be in the holiday spirit, I force myself to decorate both my office and my home with decorations that are soothing to all of my senses. I place smiling snowmen in various spots so that I can see them throughout the day. I put out candles and potpourri that smell like pine cones and balsam fir. I drink peppermint tea while listening to joyful holiday music at my office or at home wrapped in a big, fleece blanket. All things that are pleasing to see, hear, taste, smell and feel.
New traditions for the holidays
I have also started some of my own new traditions. Each holiday season my colleagues and I take a few hours off from work to go out to lunch and just enjoy each other’s company. No work talk, just good food with good people.
I have also never been a “shopper” and used to do everything in my power to avoid being anywhere near a mall between Halloween and New Year’s Day. In the last few years, however, I have also turned my Christmas shopping into an enjoyable event. I take a day off at the beginning of December and go to a mall with a couple of my girlfriends. We spend the day together shopping, but also laughing and having a good time. It makes shopping less of a chore and more of a social event and is much more bearable to those of us who are “mall phobic” during the holidays.
Balance and peace of mind
Lastly, the end of the year is a busy season for me for more reasons than just the holidays. I have to finish teaching responsibilities from one semester while prepping for the next. Additionally, I have to figure out a new work schedule as, with a change of teaching comes a change of days/hours, and I have to work my clients in around this schedule. In the past I would approach these changes with dread and panic, worried that I would never be able to figure it all out. Now, I accept things as they are and put faith in the belief that “it will all work out”. I tell myself that I have been doing this for many, many years and it always works out, so why bother stressing about it. This change of thinking has allowed me to find balance and peace of mind in a way I have never been able to before.
So, if you are like the old me and are filled with dread at this time of year, I encourage you to figure out what would make this holiday season meaningful to you. Whether it be donating to charity, decorating your house in a different way, creating new traditions or finding a new way to create peace of mind and balance in your life. I promise you it will be worth it. It certainly has been for me
Lynn M. Kegley, LICSW
to read more blogs by Lynn go to www.apeacefulbalance.com