Part One: You’re Not Alone
Most of us have more to do over the holidays than any time of year. If you’re one who loves everything about the holidays, you are among the super lucky. I’m happy for you.

For many of us, there is some, hopefully not all, of that activity that is unwanted. Too often it’s not needed either. In another article, I’ll explore that.

This is not about bah-humbug. It’s about finding what works for you. Each of us is different, with a particular set of values, expectations, and desires that can change at various times for assorted reasons.

If you are one of those feeling a wee bit pushed-pulled, or out-of-sorts, you are not alone. And if you are a woman, you tend to have a bigger role in the work of continuing traditions. That can cause tension which causes a domino effect.

If you feel stressed, imagine how it might be for those that suffer any kind of mental illness. As an author, I advocate for the mentally ill and their families. My expertise comes from being a family member of mentally ill parents. My depressed father became even more serious, more rigid, and more emotionally distant around the holidays. My manic-depressive, schizophrenic mother’s behavior was always more rageful, unpredictable, and bizarre at holiday time. Intensity of symptoms are common this time of year.

At an early age, I knew that winter holidays could be a serious escalation of hell. More on that can be found in my book: Breaking Through Concrete: The Gift of Having Mentally Ill Parents.

The purpose of this series of articles is to contribute to holiday peace on earth. Knowing the dark side, I continually strive to make holidays meaningful and enjoyable. Decades ago, I created Rising to The Occasion, a business for creating personalized, joyful celebrations. Also, as a coach, I help people deal with their relationships. You have a relationship to holidays too, even if you do not participate.

Understanding the word ‘holiday’ means ‘holy day,’ I take into account the fact that in December, there are many dozens of different religious and ethnic holy days that need peace in their households, too. So I am writing to everyone who struggles at all this time of year.

Whether or not you, or someone you know, struggles with holidays, this article is for you, especially if you feel a twinge of discontent around winter holidays. These special times can have a fabulous function in our lives. They can be memorable for all the right reasons. And that takes real intention and preparation.

The holiday expectations can be a setup for an emotional drain to a downright disaster. No matter what winter holiday you celebrate, you’ve been sold a particular type of holiday. Whatever you’ve been taught, that celebration is the only ‘right’ one. Right? Depending on your religion, culture or family background, you’ve been taught how it’s supposed to look. And some of you have been taught one tradition at home, and a different one at school.

Many don’t experience what they would like to feel. They can’t “get in the spirit” whether before or during the holidays. And afterwards, many of you wonder why all that work, and all those gifts, produced a feeling of emptiness. For some people, holidays sap their energy, and for some, they are possibly worse off than if there were no holidays.

First thing to do is to notice if there is something missing for you in the current way you celebrate. What lit you up in the past may not do it for you now. See if there is anything you might want to update or uplift about how you honor this time of year. Ask yourself: “What might stir up more joy this season? What can light up my life during the holidays and beyond?”

From your individual perspective, you can be considering how the holidays are for you, and you may be noticing how it is for others in your life. If you have to deal with others over the holidays, it is critical that you prepare for the possible difficult person in your midst. The usual holiday challenges for all of us are harder for the mentally ill. It’s even harder if that difficult person is you.

Think of the song: It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. It can be. Rarely can you count on that. And, it can be the most stressful time of the year. You don’t want to sing that song of stress. It’s as if walking up steep steps everyday, and then holidays come with each step looking like a mountain. That’s how holidays affect some people with physical, as well as emotional challenges. There are people who cannot handle change in routine, so holidays pose a problem. Some of those people work with the public and you have to maneuver around their moods. Do you react negatively, or do you give sufferers some space?

No matter where you are on the stress continuum, remember others could be feeling the same, or worse. In the next article, I will describe obstacles to holiday happiness that you may relate to. Once identified, you can see more clearly what to do about them. Later, I’ll be listing ways to create a peaceful season and a joyful celebration that fits for you.

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