By Susan A. Osofsky, LCSW

I was standing  in our popular shopping district today watching the annual Halloween Zombie Walk, delighted by the creativity of all the young  people dressed as the “Walking Undead”. There were elaborate, grotesque costumes on the serious faced actors as they literally dragged themselves down a mile long street and back up again, while onlookers stood with startled expressions. It’s an event open to anyone who has the courage to make themselves look hideous and happily flaunt it. Although I look forward to this event each year, I can’t help but wonder how many of the zombies were excited to participate and how many were displaying what they truly felt as they considered the upcoming holiday season.  
How can we approach our holidays this year without feeling like a zombie? If aliens landed on earth during this time of year, what would they see? Would families be standing around the piano singing about dreaming of a white Christmas, lovingly sharing homemade gifts and talking about how they can contribute to peace on earth or would they see the stressed faces of people pretending to enjoy each other’s company, hoping they can afford to make the payments on the credit cards they used for the gifts under the tree?
No matter what your religion or spiritual tradition, consider making this holiday season a more meaningful experience.  Perhaps you can go back to the original texts of your tradition and embrace the real meaning behind your holiday. All great religions teach love and compassion toward others and toward oneself. Try being compassionate toward yourself by taking some quiet time to contemplate how you might move through the holidays in a way that reduces rather than increases stress. Here are possible actions you can take to approach the holidays in a less stressful manner:
1. Do something to maintain balance in your life on a daily basis;  take a warm bath, do long slow stretches, go for a power walk, dance around the house, meditate, focus on some of the things in your life that bring you joy. Yes, you do have time for this– if you choose to make it.
2. Consider giving gifts of service such as: a 2 hour house cleaning, a car wash, a 1 hour back rub, a gourmet home cooked meal, babysitting for an evening, dog walking or anything that you enjoy doing and think the recipient might appreciate.  If you are crafty or like to bake, perhaps you can make your own gifts, rather than spending money you’ll later regret.
3. If your holiday memories are fraught with unpleasant experiences, remind yourself that when you were a child you had to go along with whatever was happening in your home.  Now that you’re an adult, you can create your own traditions, and invite whomever you choose.
4. Spend the holidays with those you love. You don’t have to suffer through long periods of time with those that disrespect you. If you’re away from loved ones, consider inviting other “holiday orphans” to your home for a pot luck holiday celebration.
5. Try to lower your expectations. Remember, the people you grew up with are still the same folks they always were. They’re not going to change just because it’s a special occasion.  If someone is being offensive, politely excuse yourself, go for a walk, use the restroom, and if necessary you can always head back home. If things are not going the way you had hoped, remember “this too shall pass”, then plan to do your holidays differently next year.
6. Breathe Deeply and Often.
As more of us approach the holidays with a different state of mind and intention, our positive energy might spread to those around us. We may not be able to change the world but we can definitely stand tall, appreciate the love we have to give and embrace our aliveness. We don’t have to become the “Walking Undead”.
I hope your holiday season is filled with all the love you have to offer.

Susan Osofsky is in private practice in Richmond, VA., specializing in the treatment of OCD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and trauma. Click here to learn more about Susan.

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