Dealing with Overwhelm


It’s that time of year again. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this is the time of “the holidays”, and everybody is expected to be festive. What a burden that can be.

All our senses are overloaded this time of year – from the repetitive music and noisy crowds in the shopping malls, to the bright lights everywhere, overindulgence in rich food, sugary desserts and alcohol, heavy boots and scratchy scarves, and even the smell of those artificial pinecones that are guaranteed to send my daughter into an asthma attack. It’s a lot to handle, especially for introverts and people with neurological issues. Compound it all with lack of sleep, and it can be a recipe for misery.

Even those of us who can handle the sensory overload may find ourselves facing emotional expectations that can lead to a sense of overwhelm – families may gather who do better together in small doses, friends and family may expect gifts that are a burden on our budget, or else we may perceive ourselves as inferior for not providing that kind of gifts.

Or maybe we don’t have family nearby – seeing everyone else retreat into their groups can lead to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s no surprise that many churches offer “Blue Christmas” services, for those who face the festive season with sadness and depression.

The good news is that we don’t have to spend this time feeling overwhelmed. We have this amazing source of power right between our ears, that allows us to reframe everything I’ve said above. It starts with impeccable self-care.

We can set boundaries on the sensory assault, on the family expectations, and even on the expectations we have for ourselves. We can let go of the unrealistic visions of sugarplums and fairies, stunning decorations and infinite quantities of homemade cookies, perfectly iced, of course. Turn off Instagram – nobody’s house really looks like that for longer than it took to take the picture.

We can grant ourselves the grace of silence and solitude when we need them, so we can enjoy the togetherness without guilt and annoyance. We can love those around us without losing ourselves.

We can moderate our intake of food that makes us feel bad, both physically and emotionally. We can make sure we get enough sleep and exercise, even if it means something gets left undone.

We can have loving but firm conversations with our children about excess and privilege, and maybe spend some time giving instead of receiving.

By being clear on our boundaries and our expectations, we can make this the best holiday season ever, one to be enjoyed and savoured, without overwhelm and exhaustion. Isn’t that the best gift ever?

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