Many years ago, I met my husband's extended family for the first time at a Thanksgiving dinner. His family is Italian, and embodies most of the typical Italian-y stereotypes that come to mind. It was the loudest, largest family gathering I've ever been to. Everyone yelled over each other, kids of all ages raced around the house and constantly underfoot, and there was enough food to feed a small city. It was warm, it was fun.
It was also deeply overwhelming.
The holiday season presents numerous opportunities to celebrate and be with people we love and enjoy. It's also a constant source of potential triggers, just waiting to burst to the surface. Infinite stimulation creates a perfect storm to drown all of us in the overwhelm. As fun as the holidays can be, they can be a deep well of anxiety and exhaustion.
Over the last decade, I've discovered what works best for me in regards to managing the holiday deluge. I know that I hover on the introvert/extrovert line, and the holidays tend to excite the extrovert inside of me, even while the introvert demands retreat and solace. So, here's what's worked for me. Maybe some of these gentle supports will work for you, too.
Everyone is having a party/open house/dirty santa gift exchange/light show/Nutcracker/eat-all-the-things festival. And that is probably in addition to normal family gatherings. It's okay to say no, even at the last minute. It's your life. DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. You don't owe anyone anything, especially your wellbeing.
Save heated discussions for after dinner.
I know. You probably have that one SUPER awful jerkface relative who will try to bait you with inflammatory statements while your mouth is full of mashed potatoes. Stand firm in your unwillingness to discuss anything controversial until after dessert. Verbalize it. Preemptively and kindly shut it down with a group email prior to your family gathering. Trump will still be president-elect after you eat your meal, so save politics for that post-pie cup of coffee.
If you're an introvert, or even have introvert leanings, spend 3 hours alone for every 1 hour spent with others. When you start to feel yourself slowly spiraling, step outside with a glass of water or wine and take a few deep breaths or go for a short walk.
If you're an extrovert, congratulations. THIS IS YOUR SEASON TO SHINE! Fill up your tank for the next 12 months and become human tinsel.
Play with the kids like you are a kid yourself.
Kids can be terrifying and magical, but rarely at the same time. Let their energy and sense of wonder fuel you. Play the video game with them, put together an impromptu game of Simon Says, and be Simon. Award candy and cash prizes. Set up two piñatas, one for kids and one for adults. A little stick therapy and candy will be good for everyone. Take a break from being an adult person and be a kid person for 30 minutes.
Feed yourself good food.
This is a non-negotiable, no matter who you are. Enjoy your food, and also remember feed your body the stuff it needs to cope with life. Like water and protein and a few green things here and there. You know, basics.
Give yourself grace.
We are all a work in progress. If you find yourself getting triggered or overwhelmed, accept that you are human and you have not yet achieved total enlightenment. Take a break from aiming for perfection and accept your glitchy places. WE ALL HAVE THEM. You get to have yours, too.
Buy a coffee for a stranger, play one-way Secret Santa and anonymously mail that friend who is stressed and hurting a gift certificate for massage, be extraordinarily kind to people in the service and retail industries, or pass out homemade bookmarks with lines of poetry to people you meet.
And if all else fails, know there's always next year and you can start saving now for a rental cabin in the woods.