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Keys to Preventing or Overcoming Holiday Overwhelm

The holidays are coming. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza are racing towards us. Just saying this starts a sense of overwhelm to creep into me. How about you? 

Let’s explore together how to prevent  – or overcome – holiday overwhelm.

When we were children, the wonder and istock-christmas-candlemagic of the holidays filled us with eager anticipation. As adults, it’s quite another story. There’s gifts to make or buy, homes to decorate, inside and outside; relationships to consider-both interconnecting family relationships and friendships; food to prepare, including considerations of who’s allergic to what, and who’s on which diet this year; budgets to balance; events to attend; the list goes on and on.

And if you’re a creative, highly sensitive and/or gifted adult, these traits add additional layers of complexity, quickly mounting into “holiday overwhelm”. Your expectations for yourself and for others are likely to be much higher than are others. If you’re honest with yourself, might it take a dozen people to fulfill them all? OK, maybe just three or four?

No? Then never mind….you may not find this blog post relevant. But if you identify with any of this, I invite you to join me while we explore some of the horror and the happiness of the holidays together. For we often must face the potential horror in order to find the happiness. There is a soulful ‘logic’ to Halloween preceding these other holidays. Every fairy tale and folk tale, every well spun yarn, every novel or movie worth our time and attention sets out this same template- you must enter the deep dark woods (of danger and despair), fight the dragon(s)—and win!— in order to find the buried treasure. Then you must dig it up and return through those same dangerous woods to bring this treasure back to your home and community so you can use it to heal your own life and if you choose, share it with those you care about.

No wonder you may be tempted to give up before you start. It can seem daunting to even read about it, let alone deal with it. But the stakes are high. Underneath the glitz and glam of the holidays, you know that the calendar year is winding to a close and the solstice is approaching. Consciously or unconsciously, you may be assessing yourself: How do you measure up to the goals and expectations that you set out for yourself in the beginning of the year? How do you compare with your neighbors, siblings, cousins, peers? Where are you in your overall Life Plan compared to where you planned to be by now? Has your year and your life turned out anything like you hoped and planned? What do you make of it if it hasn’t? Do you feel there is handwriting on the wall, and you are found wanting… God, by Life, by the Universe? And especially by your own outrageous, unrealistic expectations? What is often at stake is your internal approval of yourself, or lack of it. But approval is what you-and all of us- may seek and settle for as the false substitute when self-acceptance isn’t present.

This insecurity can be some of the hidden fuel behind the implosions and explosions that often occur around the holidays.

When you aren’t OK as a person; when it’s not acceptable to be who you are, with the vulnerabilities and challenges you have, then the gifts you have aren’t very accessible and don’t count for much. When it’s not Ok to be YOU, then it’s also not OK to not BE PERFECT, AKA TO DO THE HOLIDAYS PERFECTLY. When you’re not enough, then you have to try to make up for it by (over) doing the holidays.

pic26428So what? We know that Self-Acceptance and Self-Love don’t come overnight. Well, consider this: IF you were OK just as you are, would it also be OK for you to have a dirty carpet, unpolished silver, not as much money to spend on gifts, and not enough time and ____________ (you fill in the blank) to know what the perfect gifts would be, and to make or find and buy them? Would it also be ok for you to have physical and financial and emotional limits….and to honor them? Might you be freed from your obsessing about every detail and from comparing yourself to your Impossible Inner Standards? Might it be OK to be human? Might it also be possible to recognize the voice of the Ego, trying to make up for inner lack by pushing for more and more outer accomplishment? Maybe you then begin to interact with that inner voice, and also turn down the volume on its channel.

What if you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that no matter what happens, you are OK?

If you knew in your bones that you have the right to occupy the space you do, you have a right to breathe the air you breathe and eat the food you eat, and have a legitimate place on this planet, would it have an impact on your life? Might you also be able to identify what are your deep inner needs leading to your true priorities and goals…..for the upcoming holidays, and also the year to come?


What if you could accept this holiday season as an opportunity to practice self-acceptance and self-love?

“No”, you say. “I would be selfish to do such an outlandish thing as this.” No? Then why does every major religion teach in one way or another that LOVE starts at home- with yourself. We misunderstand and misinterpret what is written in the sacred texts. The truth is that your ability to love others is limited by your ability to love yourself. In this case, it is necessary, imperative even, to face your faults, mistakes, inadequacies and vulnerabilities and to love accept yourself WITH all of this baggage. By refusing to do this, you voluntarily limit your ability to love others. And so do I. Ouch.

Dragon_5-by-eyehookDoes this seem impossible? So does going into the deep dark woods, facing the dangers and despair there and fighting the dragons. No wonder it is expressed this way.

This is a universal, archetypal challenge that all humans face, and have faced since the beginning of time. The sacred stories that accompany this time of year each speak to these deep essential needs and each address them a little differently. In spite of their differences, maybe the underlying commonality is that we each face these same inner dragons and we can’t do it alone.

Instinctively we seem to seek the company of others…. so we know that we are not alone in our foray into the forest to face and fight our inner dragons, search for and find our deeply buried inner treasure, and carefully carry it back home through those same deep dark woods so we can use it for our own healing and that of those we love and know.

Maybe one thing that’s important in this holiday time is for us to take the time to acknowledge our own inner journey in this last year, with its tragedies and triumphs, and to share it with each other. Maybe one thing we need is to tell stories, sing songs and dance dances of despair and triumph with others─face to face, on the phone, and online.

I will start the sharing here, for I, too have had my share of ups and downs, challenges and victories in this last year.

Here goes: I’ll start with my “Gripes”. Growing my counseling practice from part-time to full-time is slower than I would like. Every task seems to have umpteen hidden aspects that don’t show up until after the project is started. So it takes longer than I anticipate, and often other things are already scheduled to begin before I finish the previous one. The result? I have many started but fewer finished projects, such as this new website; articles intended for this blog and elsewhere, and books (yes, more than one), quilts and other fabric art pieces; and workshops/Playshops that never got off the ground. I have launched a webinar series, but did it too ambitiously (weekly), a pace I cannot sustain, so am having to pull back and readjust in order to continue with the webinars. Life has its challenges, too–just last week, I had a minor auto accident which also takes time and energy to deal with, and though minor, has both a financial and physical impact on me. Of course, there’s more of an impact on my sensitive body than it might on someone else who has a less sensitive physiology than I do. Each time I experience a challenge or a setback, it can also trigger my complexes, such as “You should have known better” and “How stupid is that!” and well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, I have much to be grateful for.

My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, my oldest son turned 35 and my MJS-95-Matt-35Gary + Sharonmother turned 95 this year. All three of my sons are married, maturing as persons and as men and moving ahead in their work and personal lives. I am fortunate to have other local and long distance nuclear and extended family and dear friends . I continue to be honored to accompany my clients─adults, teens and children, local and long distance, on their sacred healing journeys. I have many continuing professional connections and also have enjoyed meeting many new people this year. I am grateful to develop relationships with people all over the globe. I have recently moved into a long desired new office, with more space and a nicer, better location (for me but not for all of my local clients). I had several textile art works accepted into an art show this fall, something I had never expected to happen. I had the opportunity to speak to several great organizations this last year, and have been invited back to some of these and also to some new ones in the coming year.

The discipline of identifying and expressing both our Gripes and our Gratitudes is quite beneficial

I found myself reading my Sharing paragraphs, and especially the Gratitude paragraph over and over after I wrote it. Indeed, that is part of why many cultures set aside one day a year to express gratitude. Maybe True, Deep Self-Acceptance is Key in preventing holiday overwhelm. Maybe acknowledging and expressing both our setbacks along with our victories can go a long ways toward helping us accept our selves- our whole selves.

What about you?

Has my indulging in reverie and sharing it gotten your wheels turning in similar directions? I invite you to identify both your challenges and victories in this last year, and also to share some of them here.



Featured Quote

Where we do not project, we may see something which displeases us but we can decide for ourselves whether it is necessary or important or relevant that we go and do something about it. … However, when we see something which displeases us and are compulsively involved in how we feel about it, and can neither take or nor leave it, then we are projecting. Projection denies us freedom of choice.

— Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest