Finding Your Holiday Groove Could Start with Forgiving Yourself

Forgive word on group of stones on the sand

ForgiveIn thinking about the holidays and the pressures they bring to be grateful, relaxed, and happy, chances are we will inevitably overextend, misperceive, and mess up in trying to reach our proverbial state of holiday bliss. Yep, very few of us are immune to this. With all the combined expectations of the season, it is easy to expect too much of each other, and of course ourselves, setting up situations where we can feel let down and disappointed. Picking ourselves up, making peace, and moving forward begins first and foremost with understanding what is going on, and forgiving – forgiving others, and most of all forgiving yourself.

If Thanksgiving wasn’t quite what you had hoped for this year, ask yourself what you brought to the table, knowingly or unknowingly. Did you overextend? Did you say yes too many times? Were you more exhausted than you thought you were? These are all understandable and all too common situations we find ourselves in this time of the year putting us at risk of losing our patience, and worse hurting others and ourselves in the process.

With Thanksgiving behind you, and looking towards the weeks ahead of more holidays, make time to check in with yourself, so that any disappointments of Thanksgiving aren’t simply repeated as the holidays progress. One way to do this is to be deliberate about your stress management, keeping a close watch on how you are doing so that you can make needed adjustments along the way. Just as we are advised on aircraft, it’s useful to remember that we must first take care of ourselves before assisting others.

But before charging in on the following self-care strategies, first take a moment to breathe. In and out. You don’t have to do all of these. Know that pursuing any one of them is likely to help. While you read, notice the ones that stand out to you and resonate for your life. For those areas, ask yourself where you could inch forward just a bit more? Stick to those areas, and commit to moving forward.

  1. Sleep – as much and as often as you can. Being as rested as possible will help you feel more control over your perceptions and actions. Period. When we are fatigued, we are less able to moderate our perceptions, thoughts, and behavior. When you are drained at the end of the day, and are choosing between internet surfing, TV catch-up, or shut eye, remember sleep will deliver the best bang for your buck every time, and try to get to sleep as soon as you can.
  1. Exercise, even if it is for just a few minutes at a time. Breaking a sweat signals an elevated heart rate, and the kind of aerobic exercise that boosts mood and energy. These physiological effects are particularly helpful during times of stress.
  1. Good nutrition – not just candy, alcohol, and holiday treats. Heavy up on veggies, nuts, lean proteins, and healthy plant based fats whenever you can. These are the most nutrient rich foods that fuel our bodies and brain, and don’t drain our energy digesting them.
  1. Limit caffeine – Too much caffeine can amplify the effects of stress, leaving us feeling edgy and irritable. Caffeine can also interrupt healthy sleep patterns. Love coffee all day? Mix in more decaf. Aim to use the least amount of caffeine that you need to feel alert. And by all means, if cutting down, do so gradually to avoid the brutal headache of caffeine withdrawal.
  1. Be mindful of alcohol and it’s effects on stress. While a cocktail or two can take the edge off, alcohol also increases anxiety as it exists the system, boosting reactivity and moodiness. If you are feeling grumpy, recognize that alcohol could make it worse, especially if you are around people who aren’t supportive, or in whose company you can feel alone.
  1. Pick people to be around that you enjoy, and to whom you feel connected. This is said a lot, and makes sense, but it is sometimes hard to do, especially with seemingly obligatory holiday commitments. Choose to socialize with the friends that support you, make you laugh, and around whom you are comfortable and relaxed. At a party, talk to your friends, and exit conversations that are awkward or stressful.
  1. Laugh and play whenever and wherever you can. Studies show that laughter and play are key elements of a satisfied and joyful life, and that when we are happy, we have a more balanced perspective, and are more productive. Making recreation a priority can be hard if not impossible during times of stress, so make sure your precious down time involves some fun and play. When it comes to recreation, if it isn’t fun, don’t do it!
  1. Listen to your anxiety that will signal when you are overcommitting, or nearing the edge of “too much.Look to channel that anxiety into action and stretch to ask for help, limit your expectations, or just say no. Saying no gracefully and tactfully can be especially hard, and sometimes the hardest person to say no to is yourself. If saying no is hard for you, recognize its cost and the impact this can have on your life. Then commit this awareness to action. Aim to be more strategic about what you commit yourself to, and make sure your commitments deliver dividends that you want.
  1. Forgive yourself. Finally, if you push too far, and mess up, forgive yourself. Expect to push things to the edge of reasonable this time of year, and remember that this edge is different for everyone, and is found through trial and error. When you push past your edge and mess up, which most of us do, forgive yourself. None of us can learn from mistakes and grow unless we make them. When you mess up, start by taking some quiet time away from the situation to get a handle on what has gotten under your skin, and where you went wrong. Then look towards how to forgive, and fix things moving forward.

Understanding our expectations, our feelings, and our mistakes allows us to forgive ourselves. While forgiving is about acceptance and understanding, it is not about complacency and resignation. Mistakes offer us an opportunity to learn and grow. They are an invitation to do something different next time. Why not let Thanksgiving be a warm-up for the rest of the holidays? If you are still struggling to find balance this time of year, ask yourself what your mistakes can teach you, and how you can grow from them. Your first step just might be forgiveness.


Looking for more help in understanding anxiety during the holidays? Learn more about my book Hack Your Anxiety and access free tools to help you manage the fear and anxiety going around the world today.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD