Thanksgiving photo

Photo Credit: Faith Goble

How do you feel around this time of year? Are you irritable, resistant, and uncomfortable? Are you joyous, pleasant, or at peace? For many of us, Thanksgiving is a holiday that either brings you joy and happiness or agitation and unhappiness. Thanksgiving is the type of holiday that can truly depress you and make you anxious. The challenges of family gatherings, getting along with disliked family members, coworkers, or friends, gathering enough food for everyone and keeping things clean/presentable, making it through endless (and most often senseless) holiday crowds, making it through the commercialized traps of the holiday season, and staying sane can all overwhelm you. It is important that you (or someone you love) ensure that your mental and emotional health are taken care of. It is very easy to get caught up in the holiday and lose touch with yourself.

This article will suggest ways that you can find strength through your frustration, peace despite your racing thoughts, and meaning for the remaining days of the year.

The holiday season can truly bring either happiness and contentment or chaos and anger. However you may perceive the holiday season, it is a time full of emotions and various thoughts. It is a time that can bring positive or negative memories. For some reason, most people approach the holiday with a pre-determined mindset. In other words, some people have thoughts of the holiday before it even comes which changes their emotions and thoughts for when it does come. Other people approach the holiday based on their childhood experience with the holiday season.

We’re never fully aware of how our perception of the holiday stems from negative thought patterns or self-talk and past experience. As a result, I have listed questions below that I often receive from clients and others I have come across in my life. Below I offer suggestions on how to cope and perceive the holiday experience:

  1. “I don’t have family so why should I celebrate:” Understand that you are not alone on Thanksgiving day. So many people have challenging families, medically and/or mentally ill loved ones, low income, and a host of other challenges that make celebrating this holiday difficult. One of the things I suggest my clients do is avoid commercialized fantasies or images of the holiday season. While the days between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve can be some of the most exciting or exhilarating days of the year, you should not feel guilty for deciding not to celebrate. If you (or a loved one) struggle during this time, that is okay. One goal that may be worth trying to achieve is to be able to experience the holiday season without letting it consume you.
  2. “No family is ever that happy. How do I accept this?:” This is a very true statement and one that has been difficult for me to reframe or shed a positive light on. I agree, no family is ever as happy as those you see on Walmart, Target, or Kmart commercials. They are also not as happy as holiday movies would have you believe. Families have challenges such as tension between in-laws, spouses, or different members of a family. The smiling families you see on television around this time of year are mainly used to suck you into the fantasy or into buying more. I would suggest accepting your family the way it is and trying to make the best of what you have.
  3. “Do I really have to celebrate at my in-laws house?:” This is a common question I get in families where in-laws literally despise each other. The grandchildren, cousins, or step/half family members tend to be caught in the middle of a fierce battle between the adults. In cases such as these, don’t subject yourself to unreasonable standards or expectations. If you think you (and perhaps your children) will be miserable or anxious around certain in-laws, avoid it. You don’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings but you can make it clear that you and your family are doing something different. If you are afraid of “backlash,” re-examine why and consider if the risk is worth it.
  4. “Why do I have to smile or be friendly with store clerks who approach me happily?: This question was asked by a father and husband who struggled with depression and anxiety every single holiday season. He not only became irritable and overwhelmed, but angry and depressed. He was a true “Grinch.” In situations such as these, rise above and be mature. Reciprocate in the best way you can. Try to muster some motivation to reciprocate. Why? Because perhaps the person approaching you “happily” truly hates what he is doing as well but is thriving off of the kindness of your response.
  5. “How am I going to engage when my depression and anxiety are so high?: My suggestion to my clients has always been for them to remain authentic and a calm as they can (i.e., without alcohol, of course). I’ve learned over time in my life that being yourself in ALL situations make interactions with others less stressful. You are avoiding setting the bar too high for you to reach. Being yourself (whether depressed, anxious, hidden, or even irritable) allows you room for mistakes and to ultimately grow if you are open to exploring why you feel the way you do. Just don’t give yourself an excuse to be mean to others. 😉 Try your hardest to be someone’s hope. It is powerful when you do.
  6. “How do I cope with family or friends I don’t like”: I must admit, I can’t blame you if you feel this way. Family and friends can sometimes be the most stressful to deal with around the holidays. I would rather walk through a busy mall with thousands of shopping customers than to deal with Uncle Bob who curses like a sailor, offends everyone who talks to him, and is far beyond embarrassing. Don’t blame you. But I often suggest that clients learn to anticipate any negativity that could occur and decide on how to cope and address (if necessary) the problem ahead of time. Prepare your response. Sometimes all you need to do is adjust how you react, address the issue, and cope until it is all over. We often have more control than we think.
  7. “My siblings and I never get along and we tend to compete every holiday. How do I deal with this?”: This is definitely a common challenge. Competition is something most families have to deal with, especially if adult siblings are competing with their own child’s accomplishments, intelligence, or looks. This is often the most dreaded situation during holiday time. My suggestion is to avoid retaliation and avoid giving credence to the competition. Use “positive responses” to rise above. In other words, you can say something like “that’s nice Kelly. Good for you” and move on. Don’t feel compelled to respond and try your best to avoid appearing annoyed or offended.
  8. “I feel like there is no purpose to Thanksgiving but to overeat and spend time with people you don’t like. Why should I engage in the holiday?”: Most people either try to avoid the holiday by not engaging or struggle with mood swings due to frustration. For many people, Thanksgiving is a stressful time, mainly because of family and friends who are difficult to be around. Some people also struggle with the holidays because of changes within the family structure such as divorce, separation and estrangement from family or friends, natural or unexpected death, and problems getting along with in-laws. But I encourage you to search yourself (i.e., your heart and mind) and ask if you are willing to find some purpose in this holiday. If you are not, the holiday will be more difficult for you. You can’t avoid the holiday. Everywhere you turn there are Christmas carols, decorations, or people wishing you a happy holiday. The more you try to avoid it, like the Grinch or Scrooge, the more irritable you will be. Try to find something to be grateful for (i.e., good health, food, shelter, clothing, income, a heart of love and compassion, family you enjoy being around, employment, peace of mind, etc) and celebrate that. As difficult as it may be, the more you search for something to get out of the holiday, the easier it will to get through this time.
  9. “Why should I find something to be grateful for if everything I have gets on my nerves or make me feel burdened?:” This will always be a million $ question for me. Many of my clients (current and former) ask this question. I often encourage clients to remember that we all, as humans, have some kind of struggle, challenge, or problem. Life is not a happy merry-go-round full of fun. It includes a combination of good and bad experiences. The best way to perceive the upcoming holiday is to see it as an opportunity to live your life in a different way than maybe you have in the past. For example, my great grandmother, who stayed true to her Native American heritage, encouraged her family to see the holidays as the beginning of a new year that could lead to a better future. My mother told me that any time a friend of hers would say they were suicidal she would say “well…I’m sorry to hear that. I suppose you don’t want to meet your future husband and children.” she always kept in perspective the possibilities of the future. I’m striving to do the same and I encourage you too as well.
  10. “How do I enjoy anything when the election has truly changed my life? We’re in a mess!”: This question is one I have gotten asked not only in my office but through email and Twitter over the past few weeks. This is a challenging question because I have asked myself the same thing. You might find the answer in my most recent article about the coping with post-election blues.

 

What has been your experience with the holiday season? Have you found ways to cope with stressors?

As always, looking forward to hearing from you.

 

All the best and Happy Thanksgiving