Holiday Blues – What To Do About Them. The holidays are bombarded with expectations. Expectations that include past years of nostalgia or disappointment. For some people, the holidays are a time of great challenges. For whatever reason situations have changed for them making the Holidays a time of unhappiness and loneliness.
Baby Boomers remember Charlie Brown saying, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” – A Charlie Brown Christmas
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I see a lot of people who come in suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons typically around the winter months. SAD can exacerbate the Holiday Blues as you’re already feeling overwhelmed and stressed out due to expectations that come with family get together’s and company Christmas parties.
This Holiday season will be especially difficult for me as I lost my brother, who at the age of 55 died unexpectedly last April. He being my best friend and confidante a feeling of great loss and despair will now be part of my holiday blues moving forward. As many of us remember those who are no longer with us, there is also the loss of marriages and relationships. Holidays propel us back into old family conflicts which can resurface each year and deepen old wounds making us feel a range of emotions.
Rather than become consumed with sad feelings and depression here are some ways you can lighten your expectations and ease the holiday blues.
Reassess your priorities
As the year closes, we feel pulled by an array of demands: attending office parties, cooking elaborate meals, traveling and spending beyond our means. What would actually bring you the most pleasure this holiday? Make a list of your holiday “shoulds”. Get inspired by Ellen Burstyn’s “should-less” days. See if you can cross off at least two or three items from your list.
Then, make a new list – of things that will bring you meaning and pleasure. How can these two lists be combined? For instance, if you want to reconnect with old friends but you are planning to cook a complicated meal to impress them, what if everyone brought a dish, instead? Collaborate with family and friends by letting them know how you feel about the holidays – you may be surprised to find they feel the same way – and together, find creative ways to ease holiday anxiety.
Give to those who need it most
The old adage is true: there is nothing that makes you feel less alone and less unworthy than to help others. For years, when my children were young, we would volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas day. The holidays offer so many opportunities to give to the community. And you will find that your act of altruism has the benefit of making you feel better, while also creating a sense of meaning that cuts through the superficialities of the holiday season. Here’s a list of possibilities for helping others in New York, or to find opportunities in your area, a quick internet search should lead you in the right direction.
Surround yourself with your family of choice
Many of us do not spend the holidays with those that we love the most. What I seek in the holidays is gathering, conviviality, and warmth – a beating back against the cold through the fellowship of others. Create a place where you can be with those who accept you, free from judgment and awkward political conversations. If you feel isolated, far from your family, have a gathering of “the exiled and orphans.” This kind of fellowship brings great solace during the holidays.
Find some time for spiritual introspection
When I lived in Jerusalem, despite being Jewish, every year I would pick a different church to attend midnight mass. Regardless of your religion, being in a room where songs are sung, candles are lit and humans gather together can be uplifting, helping you to shift your focus from doing to simply being.
- This year I have let go of various shoulds, like “I should send out Christmas cards to everyone who sends me one”. I don’t have a “Perfect” nuclear family and receiving holiday cards with photos of other peoples families often makes me feel bad, though I know I am blessed in many other ways
- This year I have actually cut back on invitations, even with people I love. Instead, I have left them surprise texts or emails and spent more time with myself and spiritual pursuits. I feel blessed and at peace.
- I especially have patients who are assaulted by the should. And I would add that getting in contact with some feeling or experience that was good, can be part of our transforming a holiday of expectations and nostalgia into something playful. It can be a recovery of some lost parts we often bury in the midst of so many expectations.
- I am determined to have a no-drama Christmas this year. The last two Christmas times were not happy joyful times at all. Christmas 2014 there was a death in the family and Christmas 2015 brought personal relationship devastation to the family. This year I am staying positive by being around positive people, attending gatherings with family and friends, attending Christmas performances, not dwelling on what has been lost in my life but what I have gained (in knowing myself and letting others know I know them) and just liking myself and moving on. It’s so freeing and peaceful.
Don’t let SAD, stressors of the Holiday Season, or the loss of an old way of celebrating Christmas as people come and go in our lives, make the Holiday Blues any more difficult than they need be.
What will you be doing for the Holidays? What do you anticipate happening during that time for you? Do you believe you will manage your stress appropriately? I am interested in knowing how you weather this period of time.
For help in managing these symptoms please contact me at (858) 735-1139.