Transforming Holiday Stress into Connection: A Guide for BIPOC Folx
The holidays, for almost any person, bring a certain level of anticipation and possibly joy. But the holidays also have the potential to cause anxiety, frustration, and stress. All the “things” that create an enjoyable holiday season, from gift-giving to all of the people on your list, gathering with family and friends, cleaning and cooking, even down to having a postable holiday season (even if you don’t post it), can be the same things that cause stress. All of those “fun” activities can turn into buying for people you don’t want to, spending time, energy, and effort on preparing for the holidays when you may need to focus on something else, even if it is just resting during your time off. Or maybe you just don’t want to gather with certain people during the holidays because, let’s face it, during the year you don’t deal with them and you want to keep that same energy, even if it is Christmas.
These issues do not discriminate during the holidays, but if you happen to be BIPOC, they take on another layer. Let’s look at some of the common BIPOC holiday expectations, behaviors, and tools you can use to go from stressed out and bothered to connected and meaningful during the holidays. No worries if you are not BIPOC; read on, and you may find something you can use too!
Common BIPOC holiday expectations and behaviors
Being expected and maybe even forced to spend time with friends and family you do not want to.
As a BIPOC person, I have often been told to attend various events. even as a full-grown adult. It's as though my own family, plans, and needs are forever secondary until the day that I am what I like to call “at the head of the line.” This simply means I am the oldest living person. Then I get to dictate what and how I want things to go down during the holidays. But who in the world wants to have to wait to experience the holidays on their terms? In BIPOC families, giving everyone a voice, especially those who are younger or newer in the family, is not a thing.
Unrealistic expectations for planning holiday events, meals, and activities.
In BIPOC families (and other families too), there may be that person who usually has holiday gatherings at their home. They always have all the food and trimmings, and the home is welcoming. But have you ever stopped to think about the time, energy, and effort that takes? Maybe not, but if you have ever had the pleasure of being this person, planning these holiday events may be the cause of a holiday meltdown!
Rude and disrespectful comments made to you and about you, your lifestyle, your family, etc.
In BIPOC families, we are often made to feel that we must accept backhanded compliments and disrespectful comments, like comments about our weight, hairstyles, or relationship status. Tolerating mean and hurtful comments, even if they are from your grandmother or aunt, who is old and "doesn’t mean any harm," is still hurtful and should not be tolerated.
Embracing Change, Connection, and Joy during the Holidays
Check out the following tips and tools to step up your holiday presence and responses NOW!
Voice your wants and needs for the holidays. Although this feels impossible, believe it or not, people are more willing to hear you AND accept your changes and needs than you think. Will there be pushback if we are suggesting or asking for something new and different? Yes, that is highly possible. But what I have experienced is that those who truly value you will shake off the initial shock and work with you through any potential issues and changes.
PRO TIP! The more you voice your needs and practice compromise, managing expectations, and addressing challenges with your loved ones, the more you can strengthen your relationships and create authentic and meaningful holiday experiences and connections in general! The more you continue to go along with things that cause you frustration, stress, and anxiety, the more resentment will set in and the more disconnected you will become. Discomfort is most often the catalyst for change.
If you are the holiday host or planner, set boundaries and manage the expectations of others. This tip goes along with number 1 above. Boundaries are only effective if you know what you want. As the host and/or planner, it is most advantageous if you have a vision and plan. If you don’t, you will constantly feel as if you are being run over by a Mack truck. Know that when you don’t know what you want, other people do! Not being clear and/or being indecisive is the best way to not have our needs met or respected. For example, if it works best for you to only have people stay a certain number of days versus them staying until they decide to leave, limiting guests that stay in your home, or setting restrictions on the type of food served, speak up! Communicate frequently and clearly with potential guests. Clear and frequent communication is essential for boundaries to be effective.
PRO TIP! Before you announce your holiday event, have all the details planned out and minimize asking for ideas and feedback. This can minimize the number of people hijacking your event.
PRO TIP! No more tolerating mean, disrespectful comments and behavior. Call out those who are offenders. Yes, even with the more seasoned (older) family members. Respectfully using statements such as “It is not OK to discuss my weight, hairstyle, etc. Please do not speak about my appearance. I want to enjoy your company and have looked forward to this event. But if any more comments are made about my weight or appearance (or whatever issue you deem off limits), I won’t feel welcome and will need to leave.” can facilitate enforcing boundaries and managing expectations.
PRO TIP! Do not use the word you in your I statement! For example, do not say, “You are upsetting me when you discuss my hairstyle negatively.” Why is this not recommended? Because the minute the word YOU comes out of your mouth, listening ears are turned off, and folx go straight into defense mode. The best way to work on getting people to hear us is to keep them listening to what we have to say!
The final PRO TIP is to manage your expectations of yourself and others! Know that you can do all of these things, and some people may never get it or get it with your changes. This is often why many people will continue to rock with the status quo. It is difficult to realize that someone we love or care about can’t or won’t make changes. If this is your reality, consider the following:
Create alternative traditions. Consider creating alternative holiday traditions that focus on your needs, celebration, and connection without the stress or discomfort. This might involve smaller gatherings or new activities that allow you to celebrate in a more intimate and meaningful setting.
Seek Support. Sometimes, having a supportive friend, family member, or mental health professional who understands your perspective can be immensely helpful. Having someone to lean on or listen to you during challenging moments can make a big difference.
I hope you'll continue to be a part of our community if you found this holiday's mental health blog helpful. Stay connected with me on my website and Instagram or Linkedin for year-round discussions, helpful tools, and motivational content all focused on mental wellness.
We can make it to a better, more compassionate future if we stay together.