Holiday Sanity Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With shopping and baking and lots of work making with kids screaming near! It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Except when it’s not. When everyone is rushing trying to do ten million different things in order to savor the season, it’s easy to feel like an over-baked cookie: burnt out and totally wasted. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. This more or less defines my holiday season.

Every year, we over book, over work, and over everything. So this year, I’m going to work harder on keeping myself sane. In the interest of that, I’ve come up with a Holiday Sanity Guide.

5. Sensory deprivation chamber. Imagine if in the middle of the overstimulating holiday party, you could just walk into a room, enclose yourself in the dark, blissful silence of no food smells and no touching. The dark silence engulfs you as you feel your sensory overload slipping away. Unfortunately, most party hosts rudely do not include sensory deprivation chambers as part of their holiday decorations. This means that seeking a place to quickly recharge can be difficult.

For a lot of introverts or for people who get easily overwhelmed by noise and lights, a quick bathroom trip is sometimes the best way to revive. Sometimes taking a step outside to “get something from the car” works. Sometimes just going into the kitchen to help the host works. One word of warning? If you’re using a bathroom break to rejuvenate? Don’t doze off in the only bathroom in the house like someone I know (*cough* me *cough*) might have done One Time in 2000. You’ll never live that down.

4. Traditions. Everyone talks about the importance of holiday traditions in romantic terms. These evoke sepia-toned images of children in pajamas sipping hot cocoa by a roaring fire.

The honest truth in my home is that every tradition is ruined entirely by the reality of making it happen. Every year, for example, I take a few perfect pictures of my son hanging precious ornaments and sipping cocoa from a Tigger mug. My husband and I make our own cocoa or coffee and add a bit of extra holiday spirit, also known as Irish cream liqueur. We turn on the Christmas carol station. Of course, after five minutes, the child has lost interest in trimming the tree. I’m cursing because the fake tree needles are messing up the floor. The dogs are annoyed because their whole sense of routine is changing. Everyone gets a little irritable because we all want that perfect evening we’ve imagined in the sepia-filtered Instagram of our brains.

The reality is that traditions are more about a sense marking moments than about being the moments themselves. The traditions aren’t about having that picture perfect holiday experience. The traditions are about routine. Traditions, by definition, are things done on a regular basis, at a specific time, to give a sense of comfort. In all honesty, they are basically routines done annually or for specific events such that the people involved feel a sense of continuity with their world. Traditions are routines that happen more rarely. However, they give the same sense of comfort as having stories and a bath at bedtime. They mark moments, changes, and transitions.

So, making sure that we keep our traditions is not for the future memories they will provide but for the present stability they give us.

3. Routine. Speaking of routines, keeping daily routines during the holidays is difficult. Every weekend becomes filled with parties. After school activities include special events like concerts or cookie baking or special holiday walks. While some of these are traditions that give a sense of seasonal routine, they also often interrupt the daily routines that give us stability.

Going to the holiday concert might mean that evening reading time is postponed for the day. Holiday crafts after school might mean that the snack/playtime/homework routine is interrupted. The excitement and expectations that come with traditions overwhelm the sense of calm that the daily routine can provide. It’s hard to say “no” to things that we know only come around once a year. I’m for sure guilty of this. “It’s okay; one late night isn’t going to hurt. They only do the holiday walk once a year,” moves to, “it’s okay; two nights won’t be so bad. He doesn’t have school tomorrow.” It’s easy to jump to, “I mean, it was too rainy last night for holiday lights. We do it every year. I know last week was busy, but tonight is the perfect night for the lights. I know it’s Sunday, but there’s only two weeks until Christmas.”

This sense of overcommitment is just like our daily lives. We have such a hard time saying “no” that all we say is “yes.” Saying yes just means burning ourselves, and our kids, out. This year, I’m trying to filter out the important from the nonessential. What do we want to do more than our kids want it? Is it worth staying out late and dealing with the repercussions later? Who will remember this? What will be more important, peace in the home because of the need for routine or the overexcitement that leads to a meltdown? Not all kids are flexible. Mine is not.

Keeping our daily routines intact and balancing them with our holiday routines/traditions better will (hopefully?) ensure a more peaceful transition through the holiday season. If not? I can update after the New Year, assuming I haven’t run away to a deserted island.

2. The internet. Because real people are too much. I have a lot of online friends in a lot of different places. This means that when I need someone to give me a reality check or someone to listen to me vent, I almost always have an objective third party. Although I talk to my online friends all the time, like every day, for like, literally, hours, very few of them live in the immediate vicinity. Their physical distance gives me a sounding board for brainstorming or venting. See that party where your friend walked away and started pointing at you across the room while everyone she was with started laughing? Right. My online friends are often the ones to whom I will ask, “So, this thing happened just now… OMG!” I can’t make a scene in public, but darned tootin’ I can message my online friends.

The best part is that since most of them don’t know my IRL friends, they have no allegiance to negotiate. They don’t have to play nice with someone. They can just sit there in front of the screens and tell me that what happened was pretty awful. Sometimes, they’ll even just write back, “Are you SURE it’s that bad?” and give me a reality check. Those reality checks keep me just as sane as the agreement with my venting. Their physical distance from all the random weird in my life means that they approach it with an objective viewpoint that I can’t always muster. They love me and want the best for me. However, they also recognize that I have certain things that irrationally bug me. They have no immediate repercussions arising out of their honesty since even if I “yell” at them, they can walk away from the screen. This means they’re going to be the first ones to notice an overreaction and remind me of it. This is why, often, in the middle of a holiday dinner or party, because we’re on different schedules, I find myself messaging my Facebook friends. They keep my head from going all Death Star.

So, before you stop me from texting in the middle of a party and proclaim my rudeness, think about whether you might want to just. back. slowly. away.

1. Embrace your obsessions. There are reasons the “mommies who drink” jokes are prevalent at this time of year. The sleep that comes with inebriation is the kind of sweet, dark oblivion we seek. (See above desire for a sensory deprivation chamber.)

However, somehow, advocating inebriation on a widely read website as a coping mechanism seems a particularly bad choice in terms of life choices and legal liability. (I am, after all, a lawyer underneath it all. These are the things we think about.)

I embrace my gaming and knitting obsessions instead. I came late to the video gaming table. Well, as late as someone who grew up with Duck Hunt and Q*bert on a Collecovision could be. Finding games that met my need for aesthetics, violence, and plot gave me a really wonderful outlet into which I can displace my aggression. I learned that I am a much kinder, gentler me after I’ve exploded a bunch of pixels into little bloody piles of electrical data. I discovered that turning on a video game, clobbering Blighters in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and naming these gang members after the people irritating me made for a wonderful escape.

The same can be said for my yarn addiction. The methodical repetition of knitting needles click-clacking through a pattern puts me into an almost meditative zone. Since sock knitting is my jam, using the tiny, super sharp needles to poke through the yarn loops often provides that sense of physical release as well as mental relaxation that I’ve found in gaming. The only difference is that at the end of my calm-myself-down session, I have a new accessory. Ultimately, following my obsession simply allows me to refocus my energies on something other than the insanity around me. Instead of stressing about making baked ziti, I kill some Blighters. Instead of worrying about getting the Christmas tree up, I work on a pair of socks. By allowing myself to be released into another world (whether internal in my head or external on the television), I am able to turn off the noise of the holidays, find a familiar mental place, and just escape.

Holidays should be about joy and family, love and giving. However, I’ve often found that my holiday persona trends towards Harley Quinn far more than towards Wonder Woman. Hopefully, if I spend some extra time focusing on ways to keep my brain sane, I won’t feel like ripping off Frosty’s head.

Then again, even in winter, snow cones can be pretty tasty.

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Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com.She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.