Holidays can bring about mixed emotions for many people, as it can either be a momentous joyous time for some, or elicit feelings of sadness and loss for others, particularly when seeing old friends or family members that may bring up feelings related to past disappointments. Sometimes when we see people whom we haven’t seen for a while or communicate with on a consistent basis, we can revert back to old childhood patterns that hurt by reminding of us difficult times- even if we think that we have worked through or grown past these patterns. As such, feeling depressed or anxious during the holiday season is not unusual and the thought of upcoming dinners or parties may cause a significant amount of stress, and these feelings can be further impacted for those who have recently experienced divorce, loss of loved one, are living far away from family and friends, or another type of trauma related incident.
However, there are some coping strategies that may be useful if this time of year is particularly difficult:
Keep your regular routine- a change in routine can lead to additional stress. Of course there will be events that come up that you may not normally attend to, but for the most part, try to stick to your usual routine as much as possible.
Think in moderation- while it may be easy to drink or eat too much during this time of year, remember that while overindulging may feel like it temporarily “eases” the pain, it can also lead to overwhelming feelings of guilt.
Set realistic expectations- there is no such thing as the “perfect” holiday. Society bombards us with images of what an idealized version of the holidays should look like, and we can find ourselves very disappointed when our own versions don’t match or live up to those expectations. Remember that nobody has a perfect holiday or a perfect family.
Stay connected and make sure to spend time with people who value you and whom you value- maintaining meaningful and authentic connections provides us with some “grounding” and support when we most need it. Be good to yourself and ask for help if needed- if you are feeling blue, do what feels good and what you want to do. Take a walk and spend some time alone, if that is what you need; conversely, seek out support- it is not uncommon for people to feel the “holiday blues” and chances are, others are experiencing the same thing and would appreciate the common support.
Throw guilt out the window and try not to put unreasonable pressure upon yourself to be “happy” and rejoice the holiday, just because we are expected to, and, also try not to overanalyze your interactions with others either. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break.
Don’t be alone, if you don’t want to be- if you anticipate being alone during the holidays, volunteer somewhere like a soup kitchen or elderly group home. People will appreciate the gesture, and it can also help you feel better about yourself.
Focus on today, not yesterday- there’s something about old friends and family that bring out who we were yesterday and not who we are today. If you find yourself reverting back to old childhood patterns, walk away for a minute and remember who you are now. It’s also important to remember that it isn’t necessary to play the same role as you did when you were younger, even if others are encouraging you to do so through the way that they are behaving. Seek out others who know who you are now in order to keep you grounded.
Just say “NO”- it’s ok to set boundaries and say no when you are asked to do more than you can handle, whether it be turning down invitations, or saying no those who ask for favors. Remember that this is your holiday too!
The holidays only come once a year and last a brief time- so hopefully by following these tips, you can make them less stressful and find them a bit more joyful!