(and hard and scary and confusing and defeating)

How to Get Through the Holidays with Your Self-esteem Intact

By Jennifer Battisti

The forthcoming holidays can bring up several emotions: joy, happiness, nostalgia, and also, grief, loneliness and downright panic. Marketing campaigns typically feed us images of the warm and fuzzy holiday ideas—family, savory winter feasts, a fireplace depicting connection and relaxation, and yet … I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a very different experience than the ones fashioned for the consumer in us. Last year was my first Christmas as a divorced single mother. When I attempted to erect the three-section, eight-foot artificial tree that I acquired in the divorce, I could not attach the A portion to the B portion without help. This was a two person job. A job I imagined I would have had help with, in sickness and health. I am not a quitter, so I kept trying, determined. I wrestled with the fake tree for a good hour, muscling all of the independent feminist grit I could muster. But it was pointless. I was alone and the holidays were salt in my wounds.

The festive act of unpacking the holiday decorations and not being capable of building the basic foundation for all of the “joy” to spring forth from had unearthed my grief, as tangled and frustrating as the Christmas lights. I lay on the ground and had a full-on tinsel-throwing meltdown. I called my best friend in tears. I explained how I could not greet this season in any jolly manner. I could not be merry, because the holidays were already making me feel like a failure.

The holidays can feel isolating, financially and emotionally overwhelming, and contradictory to your personal or family value system. Am I the only one on December 24th bewildered in a Target parking lot strategically hunting for a parking space, wondering how I signed up for this? Am I the only one who sees that all is not calm and bright as the days get crossed off the calendar? Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot I love about the holiday season. It is an opportunity to gather with the ones you love, be of service to others, make memories together, but I wonder though … can we get real? About the unrealistic expectations, the demands, the way the holiday season can make us feel excluded? Can we decide our own traditions and set healthy boundaries about our abilities? Can we acknowledge the impossible red-nosed reindeer in the room?

A simple setting aside for pre-season reflection can work miracles in staying grounded. Ask yourself if your holiday philosophy is in alignment with your life and beliefs. Perhaps it is changing or evolving. Maybe your kids are grown; what this season might mean is more down time to relax or travel. Maybe you are without family and this season means volunteering at a local charity. Maybe you value experiences over material and this season means hiking with others in our beautiful Mojave Desert.

I have to spilt the holidays with my ex-husband, and so the holidays look a little different than they used to. I can use my solo time to see friends, or recharge with yoga and meditation. But it is all winning and it is all going to be okay. This bears repeating: It is all going to be okay! Write down what makes you happy during the holidays and do more of that, cut out the stuff that brings you anxiety. Discuss it with your family: what rituals are important to your family? Lastly, be sure to let your realness illuminate. Our imperfect, messy, enormous, striving hearts need to be seen and shown to others; in the shopping malls, Costco, the airport.

Deck the halls with your humanness. It is okay to say “mistle-whoa” to folks who ask you to participate in activities that do not feed your holiday soul. It is okay to need more solitude during the holidays because you are absorbing the frenzy swirling in the atmosphere. Mail out a Christmas card with your real life on it; social media post about your normal, frenzied, and sometimes scared and tired selves.

You are extending an invitation for others to show up as themselves as well. Now that is the kind of holiday party I would like to attend.