In talking with my fellow therapists, it seems that the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for our practice. It makes a great deal of sense considering the stress and pressure present arising from buying gifts, setting up decorations, and preparing large meals, not to mention dealing with some difficult family dynamics, all while trying to keep Christ in Christmas. Therefore, I want to share two suggestions that I discuss with clients during the holiday season in hopes of allowing for more peace and serenity.
First and most importantly, we need to remind ourselves of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas. Christ is coming, and we need to be prepared spiritually, as it says in the Gospel from the first weekend of Advent, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:34-35). I know that our busy lives do not just stop for this season: our children have final tests, our houses crave to be lit with lights and trees, travel plans need to be made, and it seems that there is always an event that pops up on our calendar! These are part of the season, but we can too easily get caught up in the events, and neglect our prayer life.
Secondly, I suggest to put prayer first. Gifts, celebrations, and food are secondary to our need to prepare our hearts for the joy of God sending down His only son to save the world from sin. Perhaps before watching the family Christmas movie, you pray a rosary together. Perhaps before driving to shop for presents, you stop into the Adoration Chapel. Perhaps, instead of going into work early, you devote that time to a Daily Mass. Perhaps instead of scrolling through social media before bedtime, you read the Christmas story from the Bible. There are countless things that can refocus our souls unto Christ, but we have to be strong and counter-cultural, and decide to make the effort.
Once we have put prayer first this Advent, we will be more prepared to handle the stresses of the season. Specifically, when it comes to family members, difficult or not, we can analyze the situation and determine what areas are in our control and which are not. Control is the benchmark of anxiety and stress—we fret about things out of our control, and we work to forget the components that are in our control. Therefore, remind yourself what is out of your control in specific situations. “My mother’s criticism of my food dish is out of my control.” “My delayed flight is out of my control.” “My daughter’s cold is out of my control.” “My father-in-law’s passive aggressive tone is out of my control”. Establishing what is out of our control is half the battle. Then we can work to let it go, and offer it up to the Lord, because worrying about something that we cannot control is exhausting and fruitless.
On the flip side, when there are things that can be controlled, control them! Anxiety and stress trick us into believing that we have no power over some scenarios, so we must fight the trap to be idle and take charge. “I can control how early I go to bed to ensure I am not exhausted in the morning.” “I can remove myself from the living room if my family is gossiping.” “I can teach my kids the importance of Christmas even if I don’t see my sibling doing so with their children.” We empower ourselves when we take control!
The challenge this season is pretty simple: put prayer first and keep control in mind. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).