How to Handle Holiday Let Down

Holidays are full of positives and negatives for most of us. We might enjoy the excitement, schedule changes, time with family or not, but when they are over many of us feel a let down in one way or another. We might be depleted and tired, pocketbooks less full, or we might be feeling down and sad because our holiday season is full of loss, grief, past hurts, trauma, and disappointments. If you are someone who feels mood shifts during the holiday season, read on for reasons why and what to do about the holiday let down.

For many of us, coming off a holiday weekend can be tough. Maybe things went really well and we enjoyed family, maybe we hosted the best gathering yet, or maybe we finally figured out what to enjoy and ignored all the annoying parts of being together

It is also possible that it did not go well for us. Many of us struggle to engage with family and friends in positive ways. We continue to revisit past issues and get stuck in old patterns of behaving and thinking. Ever ended a weekend with your family only to wonder why you feel like you are 10 again? 

For some, family hurts and trauma are so great that being together is one big trigger or family gathering is no longer an option. For some of us, the fun happy memories of childhood shadow the reality of our adulthood and we keep looking for ways to go back to the “good old days”. 

No matter which camp you are in, the ending of a holiday usually leaves us feeling tired, sad, and a bit flat. Here are some reasons for those feelings and what to do about them. 

The Gatherings That Went Well

Let’s start with the gatherings that went well. If this was your experience and you enjoyed your family and friends over the holiday, it is possible that you are feeling a bit sad to be going back to your routines. It can be hard letting go of closeness and shared experiences like cooking, eating together, or playing games with each other. Maybe you have fun traditions and foods that you enjoy, they help you feel like you belong to a group and add excitement to your regular activities. 

It can be really hard to leave our family home or groups of people we enjoy and want to be with more. Especially if you have to travel, you may be feeling loss at leaving to go back to your house. It does not have to be a far commute to create sadness and sense of loss. There is often so much excitement looking forward to the holiday, time off, and living outside routine, it can be a let down when it ends. After the fun of the holiday, when you are looking forward to the mundane and regular routines of life, you may be feeling less than enthused about heading back into your world. 

You might also be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. For many of us, we enjoy the excitement of the holiday and we work hard to make it happen. We spend weeks planning the food, prepping the food, the day of making it, serving it, and cleaning up after the meal is done. We spend countless hours decorating, getting the right presentation, and shopping for supplies. During this time, we are running from work to the store and back home to put it all together, often with quite a few repetitions of this trip. 

Add in any traveling and other holiday shopping and you might be a bit overstimulated in the days following the holiday. Although it is all fun, just extra trips to stores where things are crafted to engage all your senses and market to your emotions, where there are more people out making the store more crowded, energy higher, parking lots more full, and aisles harder to get through it can wear you out without even realizing it. The sights, smells, sounds, extra people to navigate and talk to, parking and walking more, and hauling supplies in, out the dishes, linens, roasting pans, etc. becomes quite a bit of work. Add in the overindulgence(s) and your body may be feeling really tired right now. 

What can help

To help yourself it is time to rest. You may need a few days of clean eating, get back on your workout path, meditation, and normal sleep timing. You might need a few days to detox from any substances you may have partaken in. Give your body a break by drinking good water, resting, and making sure your diet is supportive of your health rather than adding more it has to cleanse through.

Honor your sad feelings, loneliness, and sense of loss. Grief and loss help us recognize what is important in our lives and give focus toward what we need to pay attention to. 

As you recognize what you are missing, how can you speak to, tell the person, and gather more of that thing into your life on a regular basis? What can you do to make it something you have more contact with? It can be something simple like making a commitment to call more often or learn how to FaceTime.  If part of your grief is about the loss of easy mornings and your regular routine is difficult, how can you shift your daily habits to create more ease in everyday mornings? It can be about re-evaluating your life and how you spend your time. You might find that you want to give up some commitments to have more time with family and friends. 

As you work to honor the sense of ending you have an opportunity to shift your life focus to enjoy more of the things that matter to you every day.

The So – So Gathering

Now let’s talk about family and friends we like (or not), but do not engage with much. When we get together with them, it feels like work. We might find that we dread making the trip to visit or we fear that we will run out of endurance to stay in connection with them because they are difficult to be around, say things that violate our values, or their behaviors remind us what we have grown away from … for a reason. 

When I work with individuals stuck in this group, they often feel so violated by a parent’s off-color joke or put down by a comment their sibling always makes. Yet it happens. By the time they get to the actual event they are already tired because they know it is going to happen. Read on, next time you connect with this crew you will be able to let go a little more and relax into the event rather than brace for it. 

As this group ends the holiday they often feel put down, despair, and a lack of belonging – like who are these people and how did they birth me? At the same time, they are not ready to cut all ties and walk away from their culture of origin. This leads to some confusing and conflicting emotions and ideas. 

What can help

It is important to work on acceptance. Full-on 100% acceptance of your family and friends even when they annoy you or say uncomfortable things. With full acceptance, it does not mean you have to like it, want it, approve of it, or agree with it. All it means is you can clearly see them for who they are right now, in this moment without judgment of what you would rather see. 

As you work on accepting them, you begin accepting yourself too. You will be able to reconcile the gaps in feeling secure in some of your old culture while also rejecting the parts that no longer work for you. You will not feel such a sense of “needing to get them to agree” with your worldview now. You can let them be them, set boundaries and call out hurtful things effectively ways while recognizing you do not have to fight every battle. You will be able to be selective to make shifts while using the strength of the relationship to make it successful.

Another key piece to participating in systems like this is to make sure you manage your time well. For some, they feel so suffocated by family and friends which impacts the enjoyment they have with them when they do see them. The more they feel suffocated, the more aloof they appear to said family, and the more the family and friends vie for time and energy, thus creating a tighter circle of suffocation. 

If your views and values no longer match your family’s, work on accepting them as they are. This is the way they have always been. Say a silent gratitude for their work raising you and showing you want you no longer want in your life. Then allow yourself to take breaks from them. Maybe you need to offer to make a dish or bring a side you know will be healthy for you, maybe you need to bring a good book and take time to read it instead of staying planted in front of the TV that’s constantly on. Maybe you make a trip to the coffee shop, grocery store, or build in walks so you get some downtime. 

It is important to stay true to activities that keep you balanced. Work on fitting in your workouts, look up classes and locations ahead of your trip, pack your rubber tubbing or yoga mat, and commit to making your movement practices happen while you are outside your regular routine. Stick as close to your sleep schedule and eat as clean as you can, while allowing yourself an opportunity to participate in late-night games, togetherness, and activities. Eat the foods you love, even if you wouldn’t make them for yourself. Remember the 80/20 rule to help you stay on track while being present to the festivities. Stick to your goals despite how differently your family and friends may be living while also honoring that they are different and do not need to approve of your lifestyle now. 

It is also helpful to remember, you do not spend lots of time with these people and you are not going to change their mind during one trip. You do not have to work hard to make them see your way of life. Learn some statements you can make that help you set a gentle boundary while honoring your personal values, and let it go. Accept them as they are, and allow them to be who they are. This gives you space to be who you are. 

Hard or Non-Existent Gatherings

Finally, let’s talk about family systems you are no longer participating in. For some, this means that their family is not available. Maybe it is through death or distance, maybe disease or illness, maybe financial patterns or living spaces have shifted and there is no way to go back to what was. 

What can help

With these situations there is a lot of loss during the holiday season. For many, this creates great sadness, loneliness, and even anger at this time of year. It is important to honor what was, while keeping an eye on what is. Just like noted above, you do not have to like it or want it, but it is what has happened and things have changed. By honoring the changes you have a better chance of enjoying what you can. Again, by accepting what is, you have an opportunity to re-create a sense of what you are missing while allowing for the changes that have already been done. In this recreating you are not working to have an exact replica of the past, in fact that will keep you stuck, it is more about saying “this part was good” and looking for ways to make it new for you and those you are spending time with now. 

It is also important to spend time working on your own healing. For some of us, the activities and experiences we had during the holiday times were traumatic, scary, overwhelming, depressing, or disappointing. If you are stuck revisiting old traumas and hurts it is time to get some help. These experiences get stuck in your nervous system and create what we call “loops” in the therapy world. Without help clearing these loops you will get sucked back into old thoughts, behaviors, and emotional states because the body and brain and not clear on accurate timing. They are trying to keep you from experiencing those things again, but have not recognized the distance you have from those past events. It keeps looping as though it is happening or going to happen again, right now. To heal them we must reset the nervous system and give space between your past and your present. Seek a qualified trauma therapist to help you get your work done.

It does not matter which end of the spectrum your holiday gathering was on – amazing or awful, as we end a holiday gathering session we all feel a sense of loss in some way or another. It is important to honor your feelings and allow yourself space to grieve, reflect, and grow from those experiences. 

5 Ways to Stay on Track this Holiday Season

Image of friends having fun together at a party

Learning to regulate ourselves is one of the most important tasks we go through in life, however most of us did not have good role models. Most of our families and communities do not regulate themselves well, and we were supposed to learn how?

Well we didn’t. We learned to yell, scream, hide, isolate, and numb instead of really learning how to feel our feelings and process through them. What makes it even harder is so many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lifetimes. Trauma disrupts and deregulates the nervous system making it hard to be accurate about what we feel and the intensity of our feelings given our current situation, not the one from the past. 

As we move toward the holiday season and all its busyness. Its focus on connecting with friends and family, and its focus on comfort (foods, drink, cozier clothing) understanding how to regulate ourselves becomes more important than ever. Here are some steps to make sure you make it through the holiday season feeling a bit more calm and focused on making those good connections rather than frazzled and numbed out. Below outlines 5 ways you can make sure you are regulated this holiday season:

  1. Check your nervous system temperature
  2. Sleep hygiene 
  3. Food and mood
  4. Relationships that matter
  5. Move your body

First, you must understanding and have a sense of your own nervous system. What is it like to be in your body? Do you feel grounded most of the time? Do you feel like you are not safe in your skin? Do you feel like your bucket is always full and spilling over, or do you feel like you have a lot of room to handle whatever comes up? Some of us feel on edge a lot, some of us do not. Getting a feel for your situation will help you begin to recognize and understand yourself better. Then use grace to help give yourself a break. If you are someone who feels your bucket is always full and there is no more room, you most likely struggle with overwhelm and maybe anger or depression or collapse (avoidance, isolation, hiding from life, procrastination, etc). Even those of us who feel we have a lot of space get that overwhelmed feeling sometimes. This gives you a baseline to help you plan and figure out how much downtime, type of movement, and rest you will need. 

Next, check out your sleep patterns. Are you getting enough sleep? Most research shows us the average person needs 7-9 hours a night to feel rested and ready for our day. If you have shortened this task as part of your regular routine, you are already starting with less room in your bucket. I hear people tell me all the time, “I do not need that much sleep” or “I can’t sleep that much” outside of the rare few, most of us do need that much or more. You’ve just conditioned your body to need and work on less. Not the best way to be ready for anything that comes your way. If you aren’t getting at least 7-9 hours a night, how can you get more? Can you add just 1 hour more tonight? If that’s too much add 15 minutes more per night until you reach the goal amount of 7-9 hours. Small changes help your body get into the routine, fall and stay asleep. If you are struggling to find the right sleep hygiene routine read more about that here. On the other hand some of get more than 10 hours of sleep a night. This also causes problems in our system. If you are one of those, examine why you are sleeping so much. If you are finding it is because you feel overwhelmed and lost in the world or do not want to face the world, it is time for a mental health check up. Begin to use an alarm or the light of the day to remind you to get up. It doesn’t matter if you do not get dressed or ready for the day right away, just help your body by getting out of bed, drinking some water, and doing a little bit of movement to get started and stay on a schedule. 

Third, take a look at how you eat. Food and mood run together. If you are filling yourself with items high in sugar, low in nutrients it is like asking your car to drive down the street with no gas in it. You are running on fumes and are likely to feel the effects of outside stress much quicker and more intensely. Again, you bucket does not have much room for more if your body is trying to get enough fuel to make it through your daily tasks. During the busy holiday season so many of us are eating whatever is put in front of us at this party or the next. We may be holed up at home eating whatever feels good because we are stressed by the season – more people at the grocery store, the endless advertisements, and the constant barrage of what the culture says we should be doing right now. Many people put on weight over the holiday season due to stress, lack of sleep, and overeating. Pick and choose which items are important for you to eat. Do you love Christmas cookies? A special cake your family makes every year? Eat those things but watch portion sizes and how you talk to you body about the foods you are choosing. Saying to yourself “this is going straight to my hips” as you pop that cookie is not helpful and creates an internal response system that says “ok, I guess she wants this on her hips”. Make sure you are choosing foods based on enjoyment and watch portion sizes. It will lower your stress levels and help you let go of weight rather than retain it around your belly. 


Meal Planning Made Simple

Finally, relationships. Many of struggle around the holidays because our relationships are difficult. Many of us want deep connections and are scared to be vulnerable enough to get them. Many of us come from families or communities where our true self may not be accepted so we shape ourselves to fit the group we are with and it feels exhausting. Some of us find ourselves in down right abusive relationships unable to set the right limits and protections for ourselves while in that person’s presence. Make sure you set the boundaries you need to be healthy. It does not mean you do not have to attend the party, but you do not have to stay the whole time. Or can you go, enjoy yourself with all the people you want to be with, and ignore or limit the time spent with the person who is emotionally or verbally abusive? This can be tremendously difficult. Partly because your nervous system is ready for the attack and sets you up to be on edge (bucket more full) which creates a need for regulation which may be food, drink, or people choices who are not the most supportive for your system and actually keep the problems going. If you are struggling to have healthy relationships, it is time to seek help. Repatterning past relationship models is possible, but can be difficult to do on your own – you are in it, making it hard to see other options. Seek help, it’s a much more supportive process when you have someone helping you work on building healthy relationships. 

Lastly … movement matters. Everyday we have to move, our bodies were built for it. How much movement are you doing everyday? Many people cut back on the amount of movement they do in the winter months due to colder, longer days. If this is you how can you build movement into your environment? Some of us are just more busy. We enjoy the parties, cooking, decorating, and wrapping for festivities. If this is you, make sure you are fitting your movement into your tasks. Things like taking the stairs, parking and walking, squats between wrapping sessions, and counter pushups while cooking go a long way to keeping you on track and motivated to continue accomplishing your health goals in spite of all the extra items you’ve put on your agenda. Planning is a big deal here. If you do not create a plan and stick to it, you will have a much harder time reaching your goals. If you put it on your calendar, you are much more likely to make sure to keep your “appointment” with yourself. Here’s a full body workout you can fit in throughout your workday. This way you are done by the time the workday whistle blows and you can head off to that participate in festive events ready with one more thing crossed off your to do list.  

In the end, getting through the holidays is not that much different than getting through life. As a result of extra items on your to do list and more people out and about your regular tasks may be more time consuming. Dealing with people who may not be your favorite or drive you up the wall with questions and comments you do not want to answer or respond to may result in feeling a bit more frazzled and vigilant in your skin. If you can stay focused on your health goals, keeping yourself aligned with your life vision you can make it through the holidays reaping the joys of the season and leaving the garbage behind. It just takes a little planning, a little effort here, goes a long, long way.