4 Ways to Manage Holiday Overwhelm

4 Ways to Manage Holiday Overwhelm


Learn how to vanquish anxiety and actually enjoy the holidays with these tips.

It starts slow, at first, almost unnoticeable until—like a small wave that builds rapidly in speed and intensity—it knocks you over. That seemingly innocuous experience that catches you off-guard, leaving you in a pool of helplessness, raw emotions, and an inability to manage what could be handled before is called overwhelm.

We live in an age when overwhelm is a normal part of our vernacular; not saved for trauma and rare tragic events, it’s a daily occurrence as common as brushing your teeth. The constant need to be “on” all the time, high parental expectations, academic and work pressures, political worries, and comparing notes on social media all create the perfect conditions for a meltdown.

And that’s just on a regular day … and then there are the holidays.

How do we navigate the season of giving when we’re depleted ourselves? With Thanksgiving less than a month away, I read Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s The Age of Overwhelm to find out. Here are four lessons we can take from Lipsky’s book on how to manage that dreaded holiday overwhelm.

  1. Be intentional. The concept of less is more is hard to grasp in a society that constantly sends out messages that more is better. More time. More success. More activities. But according to Lipsky, easing up on overwhelm requires a “focus on doing less of that which erodes us and more of that which sustains us.” One way we can do this is by using intention to keep distraction in its place. Do I really need to volunteer for my child’s Christmas event? How important is it to watch all of my shows on Netflix? Is FOMO (fear of missing out) controlling my need to check out all online sales? Lipsky says, “This ability to be intentional about what we’re focusing on, when, and how can allow us to still move amid these modern times while not losing ourselves along the way. Intention is like the banks of a river through which grace can flow.” Instead of feeling like you’re trying to catch all the balls in the air, you’re focused on the few that means the most to you; you let the others fall and that’s okay.
  2. Be present. In the whirlwind of the holidays, it’s easy to lose connection with yourself. You’re trying to put out fires, one by one. There’s no time to tune in to how you’re feeling, and so begins the snowball of overwhelm. Presence, however, is the remedy for disconnection. Lipsky recommends detoxing from all the things contributing to a sense of disconnection—like, for example, social media, caffeine, and sugar—and tune in to what you’re feeling through meditation and yoga. You can simply put down your phone, close your eyes, and breathe. Take inventory of what it feels like to be a human being in your situation mining the daily battles of modern life. It takes a minute to come back to yourself and it’s worth it.
  3. Be curious. We can attack overwhelm by deciding to embrace curiosity instead of digging into attachment. Attachment is about control—it is the belief that our way is the only way. While attachment is rigid, curiosity is open and flexible. It’s not about outcome; it’s about process. Curiosity invites collaboration and humility. It plays with the unknown instead of being all knowing. You might not be able to control how Thanksgiving unfolds with your family’s diverse political views, but you can be curious about their points of view.
  4. Be prepared. We can meet the deluge of depletion by building reserves of stamina. This looks like simplifying our decision-making, planning ahead, and sticking to routines to minimize last-minute obstacles. Years ago, my husband and I were on standby to catch a flight home. We talked about the various things that could happen and decided that if there was just one seat available, he should go. Because we discussed this in advance, we were prepared when the exact situation we had prepared ourselves for presented itself.

When you’re in the throes of holiday stress, know that there are tools to help keep you afloat. Spend time in nature, focus on being mindful of where you’re spending your energy, and draw upon your inner and outer resources to keep you nourished spiritually and emotionally.

You can see the holidays as a practice in defeating overwhelm because everything is heightened during this time and everyone is feeling it. In small ways, vanquishing overwhelm is the spiritual practice of learning to tune in and be more mindful, grateful, and conscious. In other words, it is the perfect holiday gift.

Want more tactics to help handle holiday overwhelm? This season, avoid the usual meltdowns and instead learn how to forge meaningful connections.

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