I am excited for the holidays but it can also be a tricky time. One wrong action or word from one person to another can almost ruin the celebration. The lead up to the big day or days can be so exhausting as you prepare and finish up the work that you might never feel like you are able to relax and enjoy any of it. You might even find that you get through the holidays more stressed out than when it all started.

We all know Someone who can never relax, even if others do offer to take on some of the load. Maybe you are this person. They stay tense and worried and relax only after everyone else has received their presents, eaten and had a good time, which sucks for them as they get only one to two days where they finally feel joy. They feel the outcome of the holidays rests on their shoulders.

I have never been this person. My tactic has always been to hide and only come out when it feels safe to do so. Being in a family with four kids , the holidays were insane. My mom always hosted a large Christmas Eve party, then we went to the 11:00pm church service. My mom loved Christmas, so she went out of her way to make it amazing. She managed every moment for the 24 hours from Christmas Eve to Christmas dinner and every year was pretty awesome. I have great memories of those times.

But it did not all happen without four kids fighting and my poor mom in the kitchen all afternoon, my dad shovelling snow and asking us to be nicer to our mom who had planned this day for months. I don’t know if we ever listened. So now I want to say: Mom, THANK YOU!

“I have wonderful memories of our stockings being so full.”

She shopped for them all year and even included such exciting items every 13 year wants: tampons, pads, and toothpaste. And yes, she did wrap it all.

As the years went on and our family grew to include spouses and children of our own, things got more complicated. Agreeing on who goes to whose family on what day, new gift giving traditions, discussions of child rearing styles, and personality differences all affect the dynamics of the holiday.

And just as physical illnesses and complications to our jobs or lives can come into play, so too can conflict stemming from difficulties in our mental health, addiction, illness, or past trauma that we are still coping with. This can cause further family tension, anger, grief, disappointment, rivalry or can be triggering in ways that we were not even prepared for when we walk in the door ready to celebrate.

This week, I wanted to look into what people are worried about and what difficulties can come up this year as we move into the holiday season. I did a Google search of articles that came out in the last month and there are a few common themes.

The first are articles about the supply chain issues and both retailers and customers being worried that packages won’t arrive in time or that supply won’t meet demand this year. As a store owner, we have certainly felt this in our business and are thankful that a good portion of our products are already safely stowed in our stock room in our home, ready to ship out. But we are still navigating this with our print designs, which are made to order.

As a gift buyer, I am trying to remember that while gifts can be a great way of showing affection and appreciation, they should not be the main focus of this time of year. It is more about time well spent, even if it is still through a screen rather than in person. But, I will admit that I am trying to do my shopping a little earlier this year in the hopes that the gifts do come in on time!

“The next thing that people seem to be talking about is the worry around navigating social situations and safety.”

What is the right way to find out if everyone is vaccinated at an event or if masks are going to be required? How much should we still be worried about all of this? How do you weigh a risk to physical health against mental health when we all know we should be cautious but want to see and interact with each other?

Thanks to cancer, I have a few extra years of experience of dealing with all of this and it never gets easier. Mostly because if I want to protect my health, I don’t have a choice and need to err on the side of caution. Which means I miss out on a lot of things. But it has helped me with the hesitation that I might otherwise feel about asking about vaccination status or masking.

If you are feeling apprehensive about spending the holidays with potentially unvaccinated family, you are not alone. The New York Times quoted a Harris Poll that said that more than half of the vaccinated people that they asked were hesitant to spend the holidays with people who were unvaccinated.

And while there might be some events and people that you can avoid if you are feeling unsafe, there might be some that you feel you can’t. In that case, the same article suggests that you make finding a solution to make the event as safe as possible a team effort. Include the unvaccinated people in setting boundaries, whether that means everyone stays masked or people get rapid tests before attending. But, most importantly, make sure you prioritize your own comfort and safety over any perceived rudeness or risk of offending anyone else.

An article from Her Magazine Ireland found that people who celebrate Christmas with their families average over an hour of arguing throughout the day. The most common topics of argument are over food preparations, board games or the stress of entertaining in-laws. This is followed by arguments caused by drinking too much or not being appreciative. Surprisingly, arguments about things like politics or social views didn’t even crack the top ten.

Managing your mental health with family

If you yourself are worried that you will encounter feelings of trauma or that you might clash with family members and compromise your own mental health, here are some tips to keep in mind from The Centre for Life Counselling:

  • Make sure you are going in as well rested as possible. Try not to adjust your usual sleep schedule during the holidays, even if that does mean leaving some events a little early or skipping some all together. If you are traveling for the holidays, make sure you have a sleep space where you feel comfortable. This might mean getting a hotel room rather than sleeping on a pull out or air mattress.
  • Pay attention to your eating and stimulants like alcohol or coffee. Sweets and a nice cocktail or hot drink can certainly help you get into the spirit of the season. But they can also affect your mood or might put you in a space where you are not in full control. 
  • Have a space and time of your own. Family and friends can be great but so too is quiet time where you can unwind and regroup. Don’t be afraid to take a walk, run an errand on your own or even escape to the bathroom if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Set boundaries with friends and family – preferably beforehand. It is okay to ask people to avoid a topic or ask for allowances that keep you feeling safe and comfortable. If you meet resistance, then you might know who to avoid over the holidays!
  • Come up with scripts to handle difficult conversations that you assume you might need to have. These could be just a short explanation, a reestablishment of your boundaries or just what you will say if you need an immediate exit. 
  • Plan activities with the others attending. Don’t leave it all up to one person to decide everything. Having a hand in the plans will allow you to better cater them to your needs.
  • If you are experiencing grief, try to concentrate on happy memories and adapting or bringing forward traditions that can continue in the future. 
  • Be kind to yourself and allow yourself space to feel grief, anxiety or anger throughout this time. Bottling it up might lead to an explosion or will just stay with you without letting go.

Take the time you need when you need it.

Karla Stephens-Tolstoy has stage 4 chronic cancer, diagnosed in 2018. She is Her2 negative, IDC.  She takes 50 pills daily, including Ibrance and letrozole, her cancer fighting pills.  Karla is the co-owner of the online store StandUpSpeakUp.ca with her son, Zach.  Through this venture, they are proud donors to various charities. All proceeds of their limited edition Healing and Empowerment Scarves are donated to Wellspring Cancer Support Centre. 

Check out her blog,  and her podcast Stand Up Speak Up which ranks in the top 10% for most listened to podcast.

You can find her at @standupspeakup, LinkedInKarla’s Korner Facebook group.

The Empowerment Scarf
You are most powerful when you believe in yourself, let this scarf give you an extra boost of confidence and comfort.

The Healing Scarf  this talisman was inspired by our founder, Karla’s own path to healing. Let it be a shield to protect you and an emblem to empower you.

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