I’m Calling This My Pre-emptive Holiday Sanity Management Blog. Which Sounds Better Than ‘First Post in a Fairly Long While’.

 In Depression and Anxiety, Emotions, Holidays, Kindness, Life, Motherhood, Perfectionism, Self Acceptance

It’s November 20. Which means, friends, that we are just on the verge of holiday madness.

Every year, just before Thanksgiving, I swear that I am going to Martha Stewart the heck out of the last five weeks of the year. Not in a manic, crazy, perfectionist way. But in a “how can I slow down and exercise the creative and fun and expressive part of myself these holidays?” manner.

And so I plan to make adorable turkey-shaped cupcakes with my son, a recent baking convert. And to order my Thanksgiving meal with appreciation for the food we will eat and the decorative table it will sit on. I envision buying candles that will carry the scent of the holidays throughout our cozy apartment. Of decorating the tree with our three little ones, helping them tie ornaments on the branches while we listen to Christmas carols.

I mean so well. I mean to recreate the feeling I get when I read one of Martha’s magazines – the way the images seduce my inner artist. The imagined feeling of satisfaction I will get from nurturing coziness.

And then every year, on a random Monday or Tuesday in the weeks following Thanksgiving, I lose my mind.

This is not a slow process: I go from a feeling of peace and satisfaction to feeling as though a train has run over me.

I used to believe that it primarily had something to do with the sheer number of requests and tasks that pile up in my head: gift cards for teachers, presents for kids who keep changing their lists for Santa, sign-up sheets for winter break camp, remembering to tip the professionals in my life who make things so much easier.

But lately I’ve realized that these things, while more intense and concentrated than during the rest of the year, are just tasks. And I can handle tasks. Put together, they are not the mountain I believe them to be.

I’ve begun to think instead about where the stress really originates for me. I have a theory and an antidote that I’m going to try out this year. If it resonates, I invite you to join me.

It goes something like this:

The holidays are lovely and festive, yes.

They are also shrouded in a blanket of expectation and demand that we not take care of ourselves. But rather, that we care for others: through giving, giving, giving.

And while I appreciate the sentiment, lately I have been questioning the sanity of jamming such an intense period of GIVING into five weeks at the end of the year – especially when these are weeks during which so many among us are triggered by complicated feelings of loss and loneliness and grief in our own ways.

I can’t speak for us all, of course. I can only say that this year, the holidays bring with them a profound sense of loss and sadness for me. It’s the result of my own processing of childhood grief that has led to my silence in your inbox this year. To pulling away from activity and leaning into myself. I have had to step away from life a bit to put on my own oxygen mask.

I know I can’t be alone. So many among us, in different ways, experience sadness at the holidays. Loss of past days, relationships, life. In many different forms. It can even be as simple as not being able to recreate the holidays of your own childhood. There is loss in that too.

This is not to say that there isn’t also tremendous joy.

But it is to say that, instead of a focus on giving and festivity, I wonder if we wouldn’t be better served by thinking about creating more space for ALL the feelings that the holidays bring – happiness, joy, sadness, grief, fatigue.

Instead of deciding that we are going to ramp up and meet the joy of the season, we can decide that we are going to BE with ourselves through whatever comes up. And create spaces in which we can ride the waves.

Riding the waves is different than a determined fixation on joy.

I also think it helps no one if we become manic about giving because of some manufactured idea about what the holidays are.

The truth is that giving and receiving – in equal measure – is always important, 365 days a year. It’s how we maintain balance and a loving ecosystem throughout life.

So I invite you to join me – in putting on your own oxygen mask this holiday season, in committing to maintaining a loving relationship with yourself, no matter what is swirling around us. And in deciding that we can decide as we go.

And if you are someone struggling with loss or grief this year, know that I’m with you, I love you, and I support you in doing whatever you need. Even if it means hugging your December copy of Martha Stewart Living one day and cursing it the next. Which actually, just might be the very definition of sanity.

Until next time,



To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on how to stay with yourself this holiday season, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.

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