How to Manage Your Energy During Holiday Gatherings

As we ease back into a calendar full of holiday gatherings, we may need some extra tools to help us recharge our batteries.

Skynesher/ Getty Images
Skynesher/ Getty Images

With Thanksgiving approaching in the U.S. — marking the start of a busy holiday season that can bring both joy and stress — we thought it would be a great time to share some of the ways we protect our energy during the holidays. Many of us were unable to be with our families or join social gatherings last year, and as we ease back into a calendar full of holiday gatherings, we may need some extra tools to help us recharge our batteries this year.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the small ways they manage their energy during the holidays. Which of these will you try?

Carve out one-on-one time

“During the holidays, I recharge by carving out one-on-one time with a family member. Seeing everyone all together can get a bit overwhelming. I like to pull someone special away in the late afternoon for a short walk or a sit on the porch swing, just the two of us.”

—Donna Peters, executive coach, Atlanta, GA

Choose your social commitments in advance

“It’s so tempting to accept every invitation or feel like you need to go over and above. And this year especially, this can happen for so many that didn’t get to connect with loved ones last year. Plan, so you don’t feel last-minute stress to commit to spending time or making purchases that only add more stress for later. If you’re feeling some social anxiety, limit yourself to the company that genuinely brings you joy.” 

—Jolene Monaco, professional organizer, Dallas, TX

Make time for what brings you joy

“Finding a moment to do something just for me is key, especially amidst the busyness that holidays can bring. Whether it’s scheduling time to see a movie, read a book, or planning a catch-up with a friend that’s visiting from out of town, it’s important to have something to look forward to while orchestrating all the other parts of a busy holiday season.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, management consulting and change lead, France

Exercise self-compassion

“In the past, the expectations from me became guilt-ridden obligations, and I had to accept that I don’t need to exhaust myself to make others happy. I can’t do everything for everyone.  I no longer can cook for everyone that wishes I did or asks me to for their family. I give people the recipes to things they love so they can make it themselves, and I include a story about where the recipe came from. It leaves a legacy of my family traditions and passes them onto others without me becoming exhausted.”

—Mary J., licensed mental health counselor, FL

Set boundaries 

‘Over the years, I have developed and held tight to my holiday ‘Triangle of Survival.’ I say yes to self-care, no to expectations, and yes to boundaries. It’s so common to get caught up in the ‘perfect holiday’ mindset. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Our energy is spent on chasing unrealistic expectations, forgetting about boundaries and taking care of ourselves. I have found that by setting boundaries, ’m able to enjoy the holidays and come out on the other side with a positive attitude.”

—Nicki Anderson, director of women’s leadership program at Benedictine University, iL

Keep expectations realistic

“We tend to have high expectations around the holidays, and disappointment comes from dashed expectations. It’s important to examine how realistic they were in the first place. Attachment to unattainable results leads to anger, sadness and feelings of rejection, so it’s a good idea to evaluate your expectations and recalibrate them for what is possible. That way, you are looking forward to something that can actually occur and be satisfying.  When you adjust your expectations, you get more of what you want and can enjoy the holidays instead of hoping for the impossible.”

—Dena Lefkowitz, lawyer coach, Media, PA

Be a compassionate listener

“I’ve found that the best way to manage energy at family gatherings is to take on the role of ‘compassionate listener.’ Spending time with family members, asking questions and just listening with an open heart is very relaxing. This choice has turned what was once a stressful, energy-depleting time into a joyous visit of real connection. Just listening and being fully present is a gift anyone can give. It is surprising how much more fun you can have when you have this perspective.”

—Dr. Sharon Ufberg, founder of Borrowed Wisdom, Hermosa Beach, CA

Give yourself a “pass” when needed

“To protect my energy, I give myself a ‘pass’ when needed. If there’s anything I want to opt out of, I use my figurative pass and remember that’s what it is there for. I am also very careful what I say ‘yes’ to during the holiday season because I know the events usually take more of my time and energy than what I anticipate.”

—Kristin Meekhof, author and life coach, Royal Oak, MI

Identify your priorities 

“Spending the holidays with two small kids, I usually prioritize them. This holiday season, I have decided to stay on track with my business, so I am prioritizing accordingly. My three levers are: deciding my outcomes upfront and booking in time for them in my calendar, planning ahead for connection time with friends and family, keeping my exercise routines similar. The above will work out great for preserving energy and having balance instead of frustration.”

—Ioanna Vasilatou, life coach, Spain

Embrace humor

“Despite my best efforts to manage my energy, I can still get overwhelmed during the holidays. When this happens, stepping back and observing myself and my situation, as though I were watching a movie or reading a story in a book, can give me a new perspective and change my energy. To do this, I pretend I write for The Onion and as the holiday drama unfolds. I just reframe the scene in my mind as if it’s going to be an Onion article. In doing so, I’m able to distance myself enough from the situation so that things that usually make me crazy make me laugh instead. These simple reframes help because you’ll see the situation as fodder for a story rather than an annoyance.’

—Lisa Culhane, career and life coach, Denver, CO

Take breaks when necessary

“Anticipating a stressful holiday situation? I find it helpful to know when you need a break. Whether it’s an inflammatory dinner conversation or an extended stay with family, excuse yourself and take a little space if you’re about to lose your cool. Feeling better plus avoiding an angry outburst equals a win-win!” 

—Denise Csaky, coach at The Firefly Moment, Carlsbad, CA

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