Q:I hate the holidays. Every year, I expect them to be different, but they never are. First, my family always spends too much money during the holidays. Then, my in-laws arrive, along with our college-age kids and sometimes their friends. It's as if I'm supposed to be happy all day, just because they're here, but in reality, it adds to the stress. And everyone seems to expect each year to be even more "perfect" than the last '€” bigger celebrations, better gifts, more time off. In fact, as a corporate lawyer, I am often busiest during December with client end-of-year transactions. No matter how hard I try to enjoy the holidays with my family and friends, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's ties me up in knots, and even in my practice I become more distracted and less productive. Can you help?
A:Ironically, in a season associated with themes of peace and light, the noise and pressures of our hectic 21st-century lives can easily make for pressure and turmoil. Media images encourage us to buy more, do more, declare our devotion to one another through material goods. These demands pile on top of those that you face as a lawyer in an often adversarial and deadline-sensitive world. For many of us, the holidays also elicit negative emotional memories of childhood disappointments or family strife. No wonder it's so common to become anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed.
Perhaps what's called for is for you to redefine your holiday expectations and activities. For example:
'€¢ Set limits on your own inclinations to do too much (whether work or social), shop too much, eat/drink too much. Practice "saying no" with a combination of humor and warmth. Consider revising the family holiday traditions to turn down the stress, for example, by spreading family gatherings throughout the season, or even the year. Your family may find this disconcerting at first, but you may all find that the quality of your time together increases.
'€¢ Talk with family members about how to revise family holiday traditions so as to turn down the stress level. You may find that you're not the only one who dreads the current plan, and that communicating about expectations goes a long way toward reducing disappointment.
'€¢ Prioritize self-care. Keep tabs on how you're feeling both physically and emotionally, and don't ignore your needs (e.g., for sleep, quiet time, nutrition, deep breaths, genuine communication). The holidays commonly become an excuse to overeat, overextend and quit taking care of ourselves, but in fact, these may be just the times when we most need to pay attention to taking care of ourselves.
'€¢ Maintain perspective. What's really important in your life? What are you grateful for? What will you want to remember from this season when you look back on it?
'€¢ Have some fun. What really gives you pleasure? Not what do you think you should be enjoying during the holidays. You may realize that it's the simple things '€” taking a winter walk, gazing at a fireplace '€” rather than rushing around to go through your list of features of a "perfect" holiday. Do these things, and invite your loved ones to join you.
This year, we hope you may really, at least in part, experience happy holidays.
Questions quoted are either actual letters/e-mails or paraphrased and disguised concerns expressed by individuals seeking assistance from Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.
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