| Seasonal disorders
From overindulging to overspending, here’s how to keep your sanity during the holidays
| Too many cocktails
Four years ago, I got completely wasted at the company Christmas party and laid a drunken kiss on a co-worker for all to see. I haven’t had alcohol at a work function since, but everyone loves to retell this story of shame. How do I get them to move on? “First off, pat yourself on the back for deciding not to drink, especially if alcohol tends to cause you to act out of character, but you do need to cut yourself some slack over your feelings of shame,” says Lori Dennis, a Toronto psychotherapist. “There are far worse things you could do than give an indiscriminate smooch.” It’s understandable you’re irked; it’s no fun being laughed at – just make sure you’re not laughing, too, four years later. “If you’re trying to be good-natured about it and laughing along with everyone else, you may be unconsciously encouraging the retelling of this story.” You need to be assertive and let the storytellers know that it’s old news and they need to find something more interesting to talk about. If they’re still being insensitive about your displeasure, just walk away.
My coworker loves the holidays. She decorates her desk with tinsel, ornaments and shiny foil letters that spell out “ho, ho, ho.” How do I get her to dial it down a notch? “It depends on just how much you’re bothered by this spirited display,” says Dennis. “You could just live with it, since it will disappear after the holidays, but if it’s really going to grate on you, you need to say something.” Staying mum may mean your disapproval may manifest itself in other ways. “You could say, ‘I appreciate your holiday cheer, but I don’t feel the same way. Since this is a shared work space, you need to honour the wishes and holiday observances of everybody.’ ” You may also want to explore what’s really triggering your Grinch mechanism. There could be a deeper issue brewing.
My sister shows up late every Christmas. By the time she arrives, the meal is ruined. How do I get her to be on time? No matter how you slice it, showing up late, without a phone call to your host, is just plain rude. Don’t add insult to injury by making the guests who did show up on time wait for the tardy diners. “It’s perfectly fine to start the meal without them,” says Karen Brunger, director of the International Image Institute in Toronto. “When they do arrive, they can catch up to everyone else. Hopefully, they’ll get the hint when they arrive and see other guests already eating.” Having a cold turkey dinner with congealed gravy might smarten them up, too.
Is it OK to bring my BlackBerry to holiday festivities? That depends. “Anything that’s going to be distracting to others is a no-no,” says Brunger. “Be unobtrusive about it by going off to one corner by yourself. Hosts can politely suggest BlackBerry addicts step into another room “for a bit of privacy,” so guests won’t be disturbed by the obsessive scrolling and keying.
How do I get guests who overstay their welcome to leave? “Standing up and putting food and glasses back in the kitchen are subtle signals the evening’s wrapping up,” explains Brunger. “Use the past tense. ‘Thank you for coming. I’m so glad you were able to make it.’ ” To make it clear when a shindig is over, include an end time on the invitation. On another note, leaving too soon, an hour or so after the meal, isn’t good either. It’s the equivalent of a dine-and-dash. Keeping your post-meal hangout time to about two hours is a good rule of thumb. Look to your host for cues on whether you should linger or leave.
I’m trying not to overindulge in food and drink this year. How do I resist the goodies that are repeatedly offered to me at holiday events? Vancouver-based certified life coach Laura North is a big believer in awareness. “It’s the first step that’s necessary in order for someone to make a change,” she says. “My job is to ask my clients the key questions, such as ‘What is difficult about saying no to food?’, ‘What does the food represent to you?’ and ‘How could I make it easier?’ ” A bit of pre-party prep may be in order. Make your decisions before you get there, such as, “I will have only one sweet thing.” Rehearse your response to being offered food. It could be a simple and polite, “It looks really wonderful, but no, thank you.” “Food is pleasure for many, but it’s important to tap into your other senses and find something else to make you feel good, too. That might be focusing on meeting new people and seeing them laugh and smile,” she says.
I buy extravagant gifts for everyone, including myself. How do I curb my spending habits without dampening my spirit of giving? What’s feeding your urge to splurge? Dennis thinks it could be a way of compensating for something you feel guilty about – not spending enough time with your family and friends, for example. Bad time management may also be a culprit. It’s tempting when you’re battling the clock to grab the first nice thing you see, cost be damned. A better way to curb your impulses is to plan ahead, make a list of what you need to get, shop with cash or debit cards and leave your credit cards at home. North suggests creating a reminder for yourself, such as a ring on your finger to represent the true spirit of Christmas or a sticker on your credit card. “Realize you’re headed into the proverbial lion’s den and that you will need to dial up your awareness so you won’t numbly overspend. Set a budget and celebrate your success in staying within it. A little indulgence doesn’t hurt,” she says. “It’s OK to decide ahead of time that you’ll buy one Christmas gift for yourself.”
Is it just me or are emailed Christmas cards just plain tacky? “Emailed holiday greetings can be OK,” says Brunger, “but it depends on whom you are sending them to.” If you don’t want to wind up on Santa’s naughty list, you should mail real cards – stamp, envelope and all – to those with whom you have close relationships: family and friends you talk to regularly. “This takes more money and effort, so it shows a degree of thoughtfulness.” For those you have more distant ties with, like your hairstylist or someone you deal with in business, an e-card conveys that they’re being thought of in a warm, fuzzy holiday kind of way.
I get anxious about the holidays, starting in November. How do I keep my cool and actually enjoy them? Anxiety and the holidays go together like turkey and cranberries. “It’s very common for people to feel out of control and anxious this time of year,” says Dennis. “We have such high expectations over the storybook-perfect holiday we should have that we can create pressure and stress for ourselves. If you feel as if you’re being stretched thin, you can spare yourself some anxiety by simplifying things.” That may mean saying no to attending a party, saving on shopping time by giving the same gift (such as a book or a gift certificate) to everyone or ordering gifts online. It’s important to make to-do lists so your anxiety won’t generate around over how much you have on your plate. Get it out of your head by getting it down on paper, giving your mind a much-needed break. Dennis also suggests defusing your anxiety by being good to yourself –get enough sleep, eat properly and exercise. Picking up an extra spa gift certificate for yourself would be dandy, too.