During the holidays, many look forward to the festivities and traditions associated with the season. But for a lot of us, it is a complicated and difficult time of the year. Stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, post traumatic stress, and a range of other mental health needs tend to intensify during the holiday season. There are different reasons for this: the often unrealistic expectations that we set for ourselves and others, financial strain, burdens on our time, confronting difficult relationships with family, and feelings of grief and loneliness as we feel the absence of loved ones. Let’s face it…it’s pretty rare that life actually ends up looking like it does on the Hallmark movies! This may be especially true this year as we collectively cope with the ongoing impact of the global pandemic. Wherever you find yourself this season, it is okay.
This year has certainly been one of uncertainty. You may wonder if you are going to be able to hold traditions or see loved ones for Christmas? Perhaps a loved one is sick, or maybe you have experienced a loss this year (whether COVID related or otherwise). How have your work and finances been impacted? Is your tank empty from teaching and caring for children who are at home around the clock? Are you a teenager, sad and frustrated that your school and social life can’t be “normal”? Is your marriage under strain? Do you just simply miss your church family?
Advent is a season of waiting. But this year, the idea of waiting takes on a different meaning. Yes, we wait for the birth of the King. But, we also anxiously await a return to a more “normal” way of life. Dr. Richard A. Swenson defines margin as: the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.
In other words, margin is knowing your limits and creating space for you.
Here are a few thoughts about what giving yourself margin might look like this season:
Establishing margin in your life will help you as you try to wait well. Give this gift to yourself. Self care is not selfish. Self care is a way that you can honor God and be a witness to others by caring for the body, mind and spirit that he has given you.
Merry Christmas! We wish you peace and margin this year as we await the birth of the king and a more normal way of life.
Laura Dempsey is a licensed social worker and therapist with nearly 20 years of experience counseling children and families.