Navigating the Holiday Season Gifted Style
Do you enjoy the holiday season? What are the holidays like for you? Are you excited by the get togethers, food and gift giving? Maybe you have nostalgia for holidays past. It is also possible, the holidays aren’t so magical for you. Maybe you’re stressed out, worried about the expense of it all or the expectations of others. Some people are also very lonely. While the holiday season can be full of joy, connection, and nostalgia, for many, it can also be a time of considerable stress, dread, anxiety, and depression, or some mixture of all of the above.
Nothing highlights hurt like the expectations of the holidays. It can feel confusing when we are bombarded with messages of a magical holiday season, and it just isn't. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. You may want to create the perfect, memorable holiday for your children. You may be worried about making ends meet while buying gifts and celebratory food. Maybe you’re alone, or have lost someone making the holidays especially painful. You may have to share your kids with your ex. Then there are the tough family get togethers which can peak anxiety in anyone, not to mention the underlying family dynamics that make these interactions challenging for anyone.
Gifted children, adults and their families may experience all of this, and more. If you are unusually intelligent or highly talented, your experience may be more complicated due to emotional sensitivity, sensory processing problems, boredom, possible introversion, unusual interests and judgments from others . For example, you or your gifted child may be highly sensitive to the tastes and textures of foods, making dinners with others highly uncomfortable, unappetizing and riddled with judgmental opinions about “picky eaters”.
You or your gifted children may feel over or underwhelmed by the social expectations the season brings and feel uncomfortable spending time with larger groups or relatives you barely know. Spending hours with groups of people can be both over and under stimulating depending on the situation, leading to feelings of anxiety, fatigue, irritability and overwhelm and eventual acting out or withdrawing behaviors. There are also the interactions with people who do not understand you or your gifted child at all. Many people have those relatives who don’t believe in or understand what giftedness is and are critical. And, there are those people we know who can’t rejoice in our wins, and criticize our losses. There are those who bring their judgment of your parenting, your child’s academics, your life choices, and whatever you can think of. These interactions are even more painful at a time like the holidays where we are expected to feel joyful, kind and generous.
If the holiday season is joyful for you and your family that's wonderful. If it is less than joyful, or mixed, that's okay too. We are nearing the nearing the end this year, and you may still have a few more social engagements ahead.
Here are some helpful tips to help you though, while staying within your bandwidth.
1. Know what stresses you out. It’s helpful to identify what the biggest problems are to manage those situations head on. This means, if you are aware of problems areas, you can find ways to support yourself or access the support of others as needed. This is also important for minimizing the stress for your gifted, sensitie children.
2. Make a plan. Your plan will depend on what your stressors are. Here are some examples of common holiday issues hat are more specific to the gifted community:
Family get togethers and social obligations. Talk with your children, your spouse, or your friends about the upcoming events. Identify what might cause you or them to feel overwhelmed and plan for those situations. Maybe you or your children need a break from the group. Maybe you need to plan on leaving early. You or your children will also need to be able to signal to each other when you need a break or need to leave altogether and have a plan to make that happen. A good practice for all social gatherings from dinner to play dates, is leave while things are going well. Don't wait until somone is melting down, exhausted, overwhelmed, or basically ready to bolt from the event. If you leave before it gets bad, you or your child will be more likely to want to engage again in the future.
Eating with others when you or your child is a sensitive eater. Bring some of your own food to dinners or host the meal yourself. Hosts often appreciate it if you are willing to contribute to the meal. You can bring something you know you and your children will enjoy. If you need to, bring a little extra to add to the meal. People are often accepting if you frame it as a dietary difference, like eating gluten free or being a vegetarian. Explain you enjoy the meal, but have unique dietary needs and do not expect them to accommodate your different diet. This can minimize the amount of explanation you may be asked to give about food issues, and will hopefully help you or your children to avoid criticism from those who do not understand. If it is a big deal for your loved ones and you’re guaranteed to be hassled about food issues, you could join the group after the meal or come early and leave before the meal starts as other possible options.
Social engagement, when you feel awkward or conflicted. Have some general topics prepared to talk about, that can keep conversation light, help you to engage and have a casual experience. I understand this can be a challenge if you hate small talk, like to talk about current events, have unusual interest no one shares, or if you find most people boring. If all else fails, ask people about themselves, what they have been doing, how their year was, and what they hope for in the new year. You can turn it into a game of discoverying who might be interesting, safe and those whom you may want to avoid altogether.
Keep your expectations realistic. For example, if you know you and your family will only feel comfortable visiting relatives for 2 hours, don’t stay for 4.
Financial Stress Caused by Gift Giving and Entertaining: You could suggest drawing names for gifts if you have a large family or social group, focus on giving meaningful gifts instead of expensive ones, or suggest opting out of gift giving altogether in exchange of a shared memorable activity. If you host dinners and events, feel free to go pot luck style and ask your guests to pitch in.
Loneliness and Loss. Whether a love one has passed, you have been recently divorced, or lost a job you have suffered a loss that can be especially painful during the holidays. People may also feel lonely and isolated if they believe they are different from others, or misunderstood. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve when the feelings arise. Surrounding yourself with loved ones who are supportive can ease loneliness and be kind to yourself. Additionally, finding ways to remember and honor loved ones who have passed or positive memories of your relationships can ease the pain of their absence. Participating in community events can help if you are alone. You could even participate in a volunteer activity like helping the homeless, or a different charity. Helping others can help you to feel good and connected to others!
Family Stress. Spending extra time with family can be stressful for a variety of reasons. If you are dreading your family get together, have an escape plan. Give yourself an out and reason to leave if it becomes too intense. If you cannot leave, go outside or into another room as needed to take a break. Also avoid getting drunk. Excess alcohol can often make a stressful situation worse. If your immediate family causes you stress, make sure to plan some alone time, and fun time for everyone. Create some balance.
Being Perfect. Are you constantly trying to create perfect memories, or trying to live up to the expectations of others? Give yourself a break. No one is perfect and the only expectations you need to live up to are your own. Pick one or two things you do well and feel good about, and go with that. Focus your energy on what is possible, and realistic.
3. Give yourself some time and space. Take small breaks throughout your day to sit in silence, connect with nature, and connect with your surroundings. This can be as easy as going for a short walk outside, and observing what is around you; looking out a window; or letting your eyes wander around the room, and allowing yourself to be curious about what you see. This can calm your nervous system, and help you to reboot yourself every time you do it.
4.Sleep. It is important to get enough sleep, even when you’re busy. Not getting enough rest can add to anxiety, depression, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, sickness and overall dissatisfaction of life. 5.Avoid over committing. During the holiday season it is easy to over commit, and then feel resentful, exhausted or regretful afterward. It is okay to say “no”, and it is an important element in taking care of yourself.
6.Spend time with other mammals you like. We humans are social creatures, and need to be around others, especially those who help us to feel relaxed and most like ourselves. For some this is a friend, while others a relative, and others it might be a pet. Quality time spend with someone we are comfortable with can help us to better handle the stress in our lives.
7.Do check-ins with yourself. Several times a day, check in with yourself to see how you are feeling in the moment, acknowledge your feelings and deal with them. This means positive feelings as well as the unpleasant. This will help to keep you present, and from suppressing emotions that could lead to a blow up later.
8. Talk to someone. Process your emotions with another person before the stressful situation. This can help you to gain support, to gain perspective, feel heard, and develop an effective plan. This other person could be a friend, clergyman, relative or therapist depending on the level of support you need. 9.Have a little fun. Try to engage in at least one pleasurable activity a day. Notice how you feel before, during and after the activity to increase your awareness of pleasure, and to reduce negative emotions. 10.Move your body. The act of moving your muscles can signal to your brain you are going to be okay, can increase natural endorphins, can give you more energy, and can help to burn off nervous energy. 11.Don’t over do it with sweets or let your children have too many goodies. While these may bring you joy in the moment, they can leave you feeling worse than when you started.
12. Indulge in some of your interests whether creative, intellectual or both. This can reduce stress, increase feelings of happiness and help you to feel more comfortable in general.
13. Look for the people you click with and make a point to spend time together even if it's just a few minutes here and there. Just a little bit of time with someone you like, and who likes you can go a long way in lifting your mood. This may be a friend, good acquaintance or a group of friends who feel reasonably comfortable together, share interests, or socialize in a compatible way.
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 14 years of experrience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.