A Guide for HSPs: Handling the Holidays

Hello friends! The holidays are quickly approaching and for many of us, we are filled with excitement, joy, and anticipation with all the fun that this time of year brings.  And let’s face it, for some of us, we’re also filled with fear, anxiety, and grief because holidays sometimes can be stressful.

In my many years working as a counselor, every year I noticed how my clients’ energies shifted as holidays approached.  I was reminded that holidays, while mostly joyous, can bring up a lot of mixed feelings.

It’s quite common to feel “on edge” or “irritable” this time of year for a few good reasons.  Let’s explore some of the common less-talked-about feelings that surface during the holidays:

GRIEF

For some, holidays can bring up grief (new or old) as we remember loved ones who have passed.  Some people feel lonely and isolated during the holidays, grieving the loss or absence of a relationship.

Perhaps you’re feeling financial stress or your lifestyle has taken a major turn leaving you feeling sad and frustrated as you try and cope with the changes – another form of grief.

If you find yourself grieving through the holidays, be gentle with yourself.  Speak to yourself the way you would speak to a friend going through a hardship.  You might use self-talk such as: “I know you’re going through some tough times right now.  It’s okay to cry or be upset.  What can you do to feel better?”  Allow your inner self to guide you to some self-care options.

FEAR

Fear generally isn’t the first emotion people think of when they think of the holidays, but it’s a very real emotion that commonly makes its way to the surface.  For some, they fear social gatherings that often happen during the holidays.

For others, the fear of not “giving enough” can be very real.  There seems to be an expectation that because it’s the holidays, you’re supposed to give, give, give.  For some people, that simply isn’t possible or responsible.

Contributing to your community doesn’t always have to cost money.  You could donate a food item to a local food bank, volunteer your time to a worthy cause, write a letter to a child, patient, armed service veteran, military family, etc. There are plenty ways to GIVE if you feel compelled to do so.

Another fear, particularly for younger folk, is how to please everyone in their family.  For kids in divided or separated families, this fear is VERY real.

Often kids will want to please their parents or not want to cause any discord by choosing one parent’s house over the other during the holidays, but most kids always have a preference.  This fear can cause a lot of stress in a child’s mind and body.

If you’re the parent, please give your child permission to CHOOSE without there being any guilt or consequences.

ANXIETY

I think most people feel some level of anxiety during the holidays because there simply is a lot happening!  Social plans, time management demands, extra spending, deadlines, traveling, etc.  There are plenty of reasons to feel anxious, but the key is to stay aware and on top of it.

If you’re feeling anxious, employ some of your self-care techniques before the anxiety gets too heightened.  Commit to taking an epsom salt bath, drinking warm herbal teas, reading a book, listening to music, meditating, exercising, talking with a counselor or trusted friend, or journaling.

Whatever you choose to do to manage your anxiety, commit to doing it during this time.

STRESS & FRUSTRATION

Many family systems have their own “dramas” within them.  Holidays are a natural time for these to rear their ugly heads.  For some, holidays might ignite old behavior patterns that you thought were long gone, or holidays might introduce new ones that you didn’t know existed.

You might find yourself resorting to childlike behavior and forgetting your adult coping strategies.  Either way, it’s stressful!

If your family is one that tends to have personalities that clash or it just feels like a toxic environment, take care of yourself.

Perhaps you limit the amount of time you choose to spend with people. Yes, it’s the holidays and it’s a time to be around family, BUT at what cost?  Honor your happiness and make a healthy decision for yourself.

I also believe in boundary setting for stressful times like these.  Boundary setting is a way to protect yourself from toxicity but also assert yourself in a healthy manner.  You have every right to be treated the way you desire.

Whether you feel you’re being taken advantage of, being spoken to unfairly, or whatever the case may be, YOU get to set the tone.  The key is to directly state what you want (firmly and kindly) to the person.  If the person STILL doesn’t get it, you can say, “I asked for ______, but it seems you still _____.  I want that to stop now.”

(Here’s my tip for beginners:  practice speaking up about what you want into a mirror first.  You gain confidence the more you practice and hear the language!)

Holidays for Highly Sensitive People

For highly sensitive people such as myself, holidays can be stimulation overload!  The music, aromas, traffic, social plans, time demands, crowds, etc. – all of it can be highly stimulating and overwhelming to those of us who absorb everything!

Additionally, navigating friends and family members during the holidays can be extra challenging for reasons stated above.  Because HSPs pick up on energies and behavior subtleties that others don’t notice, we are hyperaware of what is happening in a space.  The slightest bit of tension and awkwardness in our surroundings sends our bodies into a tizzy.

We absorb other’s energy on top of our own causing us to get overwhelmed, exhausted, and sometimes downright irritable.  To my fellow HSPS, please take time to step away from the hubbub to discharge unwanted energy and to recharge.

I know that holidays can be “too much” and that we often feel guilty for wanting to be by ourselves during this time when society expects us to be social and communal.  I get it 100%.  It’s very tricky and can often leave us feeling frustrated and stressed.

This is the perfect time to have those important conversations with loved ones about WHO YOU ARE.  Explain what it’s like being a highly sensitive person.  Share what your needs are ahead of time so that if you’re at a social gathering and want to leave early or step outside for a break, it won’t be unexpected.

You could simply let the host know that you’re only going to attend the function for an hour or two.  Show your face, chat it up for a short while, and then leave.  Your health, happiness, and sanity should be your priority.

Now, if you’re like me and are in a relationship with a non-HSP, it might take a little more planning.  Again, having a conversation about your needs with your partner will be important.  Let him or her know what you will need and why.

If you need to take two cars to an event so your partner can stay while you leave, do it! If you simply do not want to attend an event, don’t go.  The world will not collapse because you chose not to go somewhere. Trust me.

If one partner shows up and the other does not, it is NOT an indication of trouble in your relationship (another misconception out there). It simply means you have different preferences and needs.

I think the ultimate lesson in all of this is to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you’re experiencing.  There is no PERFECT way to go through the holiday season.

As emotions arise, allow yourself to feel them. The worst thing you can do is stuff them back down and leave them unresolved. I believe unresolved feelings turn into sickness.  Set boundaries as needed.  Practice self-care on a regular basis to assist in managing all the emotions that arise.

Just as importantly, embrace all the joyous parts of the holiday season too.  There is a lot to LOVE about this time of year!  Think about all the many blessings in your life and all the blessings you are able to provide to others just by being YOU.

In upcoming posts, I will be sharing my Self-Care for the Holidays Guide with you.  If you’re looking for ways to release stress, handle grief, eliminate fear, and elevate your happiness levels, this will be a post you don’t want to miss. Happy holidays, my friends!

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