Give Yourself a Break This Holiday Season

This holiday season, the quality that most of us are being asked to focus on is gratitude. And let’s face it…perhaps now more than ever, summoning gratitude can feel like a mammoth task—and maybe even a little disingenuous if we’ve really gone through the wringer this year with respect to COVID and the general chaos of the world.

I think it’s deeply important to welcome gratitude for the things in our lives that deeply matter, and that offer us refuge in times of uncertainty and pain. That’s why I’m doing my best to get in touch with my gratitude for all the great things in my life: my family, my friends, my business, my colleagues, my health, my creativity, and the many inspiring moments that continue to feed my passion for highlighting women’s voices…especially as we all move through some major social transitions together.

While I think gratitude can offer us a glimmer of joy and goodness in the midst of difficulty, I want to be very real about the fact that so many of us are going through ordeals that may make gratitude really freaking hard. So I am also making space for that other stuff that most of us prefer to sideline in favor of positive thinking. You know, those uncomfortable feelings, like anger…fear…sadness. Or those gnarly, impatient, constantly frustrated parts of us that—try as we may—it can be hard to get a handle on.

I know this is a time of year that has always historically been about holding close what we love most: family, friends, and the precious little moments that so often get swept aside. And rightfully so.

But sometimes these rules can feel a little stifling. We’re supposed to sideline the pettiness and the small and large annoyances. We’re supposed to resist the desire to tell off that one loudmouthed uncle who always spews inappropriate jokes (whom we’re likely only going to encounter via Zoom this year). We’re supposed to smile, breathe, and let the waves of ugliness pass over us. We’re supposed to be grateful to be alive, even when the overwhelming uncertainty of life—or the loneliness we may be feeling as a result of the pandemic and other factors—can feel suffocating.

After all, it’s the holidays. This is the time to lighten up…right?

Think again. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, for most women, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year—and we have an extremely hard time just relaxing and enjoying the season.

And it makes sense. Women are already tasked with the invisible emotional labor of taking care of everyone but themselves. For most of us, the pressure to tap-dance around everyone else’s needs is an epidemic. Studies show that it worsens around the holidays. Whether we’re humoring offensive relatives, sending out loads of holiday cards, buying the “perfect” gifts for our loved ones, decorating like crazy, sending care packages, or baking and cooking up a storm, there is hardly time to give voice to some of the darker feelings lurking within.

We have an opportunity to get real with ourselves—especially as COVID cases are on the rise and many of us are staying closer to home this year. Gratitude is a value that I believe is important to practice moment to moment, not just at the end of the year. But to me, it’s ineffective if it comes at the cost of denying everything else that’s present for us.

I’ve been wondering what to do when the darkness comes creeping in and casting its shadow over the bright holiday lights. Self-care? Zoom happy hour? Simply sitting in the mess of it all? I don’t have a thorough answer for you, but I do know that I’m choosing to take my gratitude with an extra dose of self-compassion this year.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to stop turning everything into an either/or situation: That is, either I come to terms with my feelings and choose gratitude, or I wallow in the darker feelings and say “screw you” to the holiday cheer.

We are complex beings, and it’s possible to hold both gratitude and those very real feelings of anger, aloneness, and frustration at the same time. In fact, it’s imperative that women learn to recognize that both of these states can be true simultaneously. Seriously, it’s possible to be grateful and to still be in a shitty mood! That doesn’t mean we’re being a Negative Nancy. It just means we’re being human. In other words, we are all large enough to contain the full spectrum, especially during this time of year—when holiday cheer brushes right up against depression and anxiety and COVID rates are on the rise.

So today, I’m right there with the majority of you, who may be celebrating while you are grieving, or remembering your blessings even as you sit in the midst of disappointment. It is this ability to hold seemingly contradictory truths that makes us who we are. And for that, I am truly grateful.

If you’re willing to embrace your messiness this holiday season, check out my bestselling book, Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, which is an awesome holiday stuffer for all the would-be super-women in your life! And if you’re one of those people who dread confrontation around the holidays, check out my popular Hard Conversations Toolkit, which will get you through the season and give you the skills you need to “adult” through conflict. Find out more and enjoy five days of early-bird pricing (25% off), between now and January 15, with the code HOLIDAYHC here.

And if you’re interested in diving into those challenging feelings and using them as an opportunity for greater connection with yourself and others, check out our Hard Conversations Toolkit here.

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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