How to Make Meaning From Our Holiday Experiences

As we wrap up our holiday season and prepare for whatever the New Year will bring, let’s take one last look at our experiences with family and friends and how those experiences impacted how we are feeling today. 

An article from John Hopkins Medicine lists some of the reactions we can have to the holidays, noting that what we experience can cause feelings of happiness, sadness, or ambivalence. They point out that we can also experience stress from things like over-scheduling, overspending, spending too much or too little time with family, having to deal with illness which can interfere with our abilities to handle all the many details of getting through the holidays, the pressure of expectations, and balancing work responsibilities along with all-things holiday!

Are any of these reflective of your experiences? How do you feel now as you look back on what happened to you and others in your immediate circle of family and friends?

The article offers some tips to help us enjoy the holidays that might prove helpful immediately and in the coming weeks, and give us ways to consider what the holidays mean to us. I have modified some of what they shared to promote a greater appreciation for our experiences.

  1. Take time to reflect on what is and was important to you. Were you able to chose who to spend time with? Were you able to choose what would make the holidays meaningful to you?
  2. To what extent did you plan early for what you wanted to do during the holidays? As part of that planning were you able to initiate activities with family and friends that you knew would be enjoyable? Did you find ways to volunteer and/or do things to help others?
  3. Were you able to ask others to assist or support you? For some of us it can be difficult to ask for help. We might need to do things by and for ourselves and don’t like to impose on others or give up control because others might not do it exactly as we would.
  4. How well did you maintain a healthy lifestyle, make good food choices, get enough sleep and exercise? Sometimes during the holidays, we find ourselves compromising on our physical and mental health. Sometimes, there are so many temptations that draw us into unhealthy practices. Without shaming or blaming yourself, what could you have done differently? Instead of New Year’s resolutions, we may benefit from Holiday resolutions for next year to ensure we focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle despite temptations.
  5. How well did you manage your spending? In a world of credit card spending and being able to buy items online without realizing how quickly we are spending, we need to be mindful of those expenses and not go too far over our budget. It can be helpful to keep track of what we believe we can spend and then note what we purchased, so we are not in shock when the bills come in next month.
  6. How well did you manage alcohol or medication intake? With a lot of parties and social activities it can be easy to overindulge. Some people with alcohol addictions may need extra support, such as attending AA meetings and talking with a sponsor as needed. Sometimes the amount of stress we experience can make it tempting to take anxiety-relieving drugs. In moderation, these can be fine and help us manage the many challenges associated with the holidays. For some, it can be easy to become reliant on drugs instead of finding ways to reduce stress so the drugs are not needed. Moderation is the key.
  7. Notice the degrees to which your expectations were met. If you had multiple generations or simply a large crowd celebrating together, did you feel heard and understood? Were people able to share meaningful stories that everyone could appreciate? Were you able to share any of your stories about the history of family traditions, or funny stories from your childhood?
  8. Consider what you want to repeat next year and what you might want to improve to make the holidays more meaningful. It can be helpful to jot down some of your observations and put them in the first spot you will go to next year to prepare for the holidays.

Accessing our abilities to pause and reflect on our experiences is so helpful. We also need to consider our expectations and how well they were met, and recognize what was meaningful and why, along with what was disappointing and what gives us the power to embrace what made us happy can help us prepare so we can make improvements in the future. We can wish for a merry Christmas or for joy in however we celebrate the holidays and take action to make our Christmas (or other holiday) wishes come true.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Can you commit to spending time reflecting on some of the items listed in this blog? What might help you do that?
  2. Are there people in your family or circle of friends who might join you in these reflections?
  3. What can you do to ensure you are able to access these reflections next year as you prepare for that holiday season?