A Peacemaker’s Guide to the Holidays

Holidays can be difficult, even if you come from a loving and supportive family (and a lot of people, unfortunately, don’t fall into this category). Between societal pressures to be happy, cheery, in good spirits, have a song in your heart, make merry, carol on the street, and invest in peace and goodwill, it’s already pressure enough if your life isn’t quite where you hoped it would be when December and January roll around. Then we heap pressures on ourselves by setting the bar really high for the new-year-new-me craze, deeming our lives not “good enough” and having the expectation of changing our bodies, habits, minds, relationships, and finances all within 3 or 4 weeks. What’s a peace-lover to do when all he or she wants to do is keep their head down and just *survive*?!

1. Set Up Boundaries - And Stick To Them
Visiting family or friends doesn’t mean that your needs have to be checked at the door. Some people think of boundary-setting as an act of selfishness or defiance or being an ungrateful houseguest. But the reality is that boundaries are necessary for healthy, productive, and happy relationships. They can be as simple as opting out of last-minute holiday shopping, or as difficult as not forcing yourself to have an uncomfortable hour-long talk just because it’s expected. “Mom, I’d love to spend time with you, but I’m feeling pretty tired today and I’m not up for the last-minute shopping. Can I take you out for coffee after you’re finished?” The other scenario is more difficult: “This conversation doesn’t seem to be contributing to the growth of our relationship. You can choose to end the conversation now so we can reset, or you can choose to change topics so we can keep up our conversation.” You can see how setting up boundaries can be difficult if the relationship isn’t used to it, but you’d be surprised how quickly relationships can grow as a result. However you choose to set your boundaries, stick to them. Be kind and respectful, but firm.

2. Take Time for Self-Care
Yeah, there’s a lot going on this time of year, and taking a nap or reading a book may not feel like the most productive thing. But what if it was? What if you taking an hour to recharge is exactly what you need to keep showing up and being present for the people in your life? Self-care is even more important when we feel tired, burnt out, angry, annoyed, depressed, or other negative emotions. Take your “emotional temperature” throughout the day during this time of year. If it’s tipped the scales into the “this is too much” category, take a time out. You owe it to yourself (and the people around you will benefit from it, too!).

3. Know What You Can Control (And What You Can’t)
We can actually control very little, despite the brilliant attempts by society to trick us into thinking we can have so much power. We get to control our thoughts, our actions, our words our reactions, our behavior. We control ourselves. Not our parents. Not our kids. Not our friends. Not our significant others. What they think, feel, do, say, and choose is on them. Yes, it affects us. Yes, what we do may have an effect on them. But we are not responsible for anyone but ourselves. It’s freeing and terrifying at the same time. But choose to consciously concern yourself with yourself, and practice setting down the burden of carrying other people’s responsibilities as well as your own. (This is a big challenge for peacemakers, I know!)

4. Connect
This time of year is often tied to religious themes, family, friends, and society as a whole. Practice getting outside of yourself and connecting with something outside of you, whether that’s God, a church, your family, your friends, your neighbors, the people on the street, the people benefitting from your favorite charity. There’s something magical when we connect with other people - we as humans are built, biologically and spiritually, for connection, and this is a great time of year to help bring us full circle, back to a healthy sense of self and a healthy connection with others.

Thanks for reading - I hope that your holidays are filled with peace and goodness.

If you need support getting through this holiday season, I’d be happy to talk with you. I have openings and a flexible schedule, and I would be more than glad to help support you however I can. Just click the buttons below and we’ll get something set up!

Megan Bonynge is a trauma therapist intern in Orange County working under supervision. She specializes in EMDR therapy, PTSD, dissociation, and eating disorders.

For more, follow Megan on Facebook and Instagram: @megan.bonynge.therapy