No matter how much you’re looking forward to time off work with friends, family or loved ones, the holidays can be a stressful season. It’s becoming easier to get caught up in the hype around the holidays when it comes to spending too much money, throwing ourselves 100% into our resolutions, and partying like it’s our last chance at a big hurrah.
With as many as one in four of us feeling like we spend too much each Christmas, and an overwhelming 80% of us failing at our resolutions by February, it’s clearly easy for us to get caught up in all of the pressures surrounding the holiday season. This year, it’s time to make the holidays more about being present, basking in the moment, and sharing time with those we care about – and practise a little self-care too – rather than focusing on spending, overindulgence and excess.
If you’re someone who dreads the stress and expense of the holiday season, focusing on the present can be even more helpful in combatting negative emotions and worries that can arise. Journaling can provide a reflective outlet, giving you space to explore and recognise your feelings – positive and negative – and to face any worries or feelings you may have been unaware of, giving you the opportunity to re-focus your strength and energy.
Journaling can be a safe place where you can explore your feelings without fear of judgement. If you want to or feel like it might help, sharing with others can be an alternative if you find talking to be more challenging.
Here are five journaling prompts to get you through the holiday season.
1. Recognise your feelings about the holidays
Our feelings about the holidays can be pretty mixed. Between past experiences, expectations from loved ones and the pressures we put on ourselves, the holidays can feel frustrating: why is everyone else in a festive mood, but I’m just not feeling it this year? Learning to recognise your feelings around the holidays can be a great first step towards feeling more present.
Try: writing down what your holiday plans are this year. Do you have a cosy time at home planned with your partner? A busy family affair on the cards? A series of nights on the town with colleagues and friends? Or something more low-key and quiet? Spend a few minutes writing down your plans and your feelings around them.
Take a moment to look back at the words you’ve used and the language you’ve chosen; do you seem excited or nervous? Do your plans give you a warm feeling, one of dread or even loneliness? Take the time to write down and explore these feelings, and try to focus on what may be causing these feelings – positive or negative.
If you aren’t sure, try thinking about the people you will see, where you will be, and past holiday seasons. If you can identify where any negative feelings are coming from, you can address these worries ahead of time to minimise the stress and anxiety they may cause you. Likewise, if you have any particularly positive thoughts or feelings of excitement, you can begin exploring and focusing on these feelings to see how you can maximise your happiness over the holidays.
2. Bask in the moment
Whether the holidays are in full swing or you’ve still got weeks to go, take time to just recognise the moment you are experiencing. Focusing on what’s coming next, what you need to get done, and things you’ve got planned but are worried might not quite go as you’d hoped can become a huge distraction, eating up small moments of serenity and enjoyment along the way.
Try: take the time to just sit and recognise the moment. Spend a few minutes by yourself and sit somewhere quiet with your journal. Write down three things you are grateful for: one that has happened today, one that has happened this week, and one that will happen over the coming days.
If you can think of more, write them down, but try to focus on both the good that has already happened, and the little moments of calm, happiness, or joy that you have experienced today. The moments to come are great to look forward to, but taking the time to appreciate the present can help increase your feelings of peace and well-being.
3. Wrap your head around excess
For many of us, the holiday season is the perfect time to splurge a little and let go in ways we normally wouldn’t. Whether that means ditching the diet in favour of traditional holiday favourites, splashing out on gifts for others (or yourself) that may cost more than usual, or saying yes to that extra glass of fizz, we aren’t here to shame you for enjoying yourself.
Indulging isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s if you are becoming concerned about any specific areas of over-indulgence or excess that it could be helpful to explore your thoughts and feelings around the issue.
Try: write down three or more things you enjoy most about the holidays. Make a list, write them as a mind map, or cover a page in different sized doodles representing how much each item on the list is important to you. Turn it over and take a short break. Now on a fresh page, write down all of the things that are worrying you about the holidays.
Compare the two. Are there any items or themes that pop up on both lists? If food, alcohol, or excessive spending, in particular, are worrying you, it could be worth further exploring your relationship with these issues. Looking at each list, do these things affect how you feel about the holidays overall? Do they give you a more positive or negative vibe? Does it feel like things are getting on top of you, or do you think you could work through these?
Take some time to weigh up the pros and cons, think up solutions to some of your worries, and re-evaluate what really matters over the holidays. If drinking is a concern, can you minimise your exposure, or let a loved one know you want to take it light on the drinking while you’re out? Talking things through with someone can be the first step in tackling your problem. If overspending is your big issue, see if you can set a budget on gifts that everyone agrees to, or organise a family Secret Santa to replace the usual gifting.
4. Release expectations
Do you feel the pressure for everything to be perfect? Or does it feel like there’s a disconnect between your feelings about the holidays and others’ expectations? Laying these Christmas or New Year issues out through a mind map could help you to discover the areas that are particularly on your mind, as well as helping you to jot down solutions as you go.
Try: creating a mindmap with all of your feelings about the holidays. The worries, the positives, the good, bad and ugly – get it all down. Start jotting down potential solutions or things you could try as you go. They don’t need to be realistic at this point, it’s just about getting everything down. Go away and come back to this page as you need to; think of it as more of a marathon than a sprint.
These expectations have often been building up over time; it can take time to come up with solutions. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to come up with all of the answers at once. Just explore and write down things as they come to you. This can give you the space to release tension, come up with ideas, and think a little more clearly and objectively once it’s all written down.
5. Refocus on the moment
When you are worried or anxious about something, it can be easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative emotion – even if nothing bad has happened yet to suggest our fears are founded. Our worries aren’t always logical, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. Finding a way to re-focus on the here and now, to reconnect with positive feelings surrounding the holidays can help to disrupt this cycle.
Try: picking one of your favourite songs to listen to over the holidays. It doesn’t have to be a Christmas or New Year song, just something that you enjoy listening to and (ideally) have positive memories of. If you can’t pick one, try listening to a playlist.
Draw or write down your thoughts about what you are listening to. It doesn’t have to look perfect. It doesn’t matter if you make any mistakes. Just enjoy the moment. Think about how the music is making you feel: happy, relaxed, excited, calm, nostalgic? Let your pen wander as you focus on what you are feeling, here and now.