Last week was a very trying and emotionally unsettling week. About half of my clients, mainly children and teens but some adults, reported feeling suicidal, homicidal, overwhelmed, chaotic, stressed, depressed, or hopeless. Despite almost 7-8 years as a clinician in multiple mental health agencies, I found myself to be shocked and maybe even a little overwhelmed myself. Why? Because we’re all conditioned to believe that holiday time should include lots of smiles and happy gatherings, large amounts of material possessions or food, multiple parties, etc. When society thinks of Christmas, they think of the fairy-tale Christmas movies that always end on a good note. But reality tells us that those movies leave out a lot of reality.
This article will offer 10 tips on surviving and getting through this holiday season. If you have tips or suggestions, please feel free to share them here.
Christmas certainly can be the most beautiful time of the year. There is so much beauty to take in all around you on a daily basis. I love looking at the decorations and listening to Christmas music, in moderation, that is. However, there are aspects of this time of year that also sadden me such as walking by a homeless person on the streets, counseling a family struggling with trauma or a challenging family matter, hearing about a family member grieving a loved one who has died, knowing about a single parent struggling with income, etc. While this time of year can be beautiful, it can also be saddening. Because of this I decided to share some ways you can cope with the holiday season:
- Avoid commercialism at all cost: Commercialism truly is an attempt to get you to spend and fantasize about the holiday. If you did not “fantasize” or strive to have the Christmas the movies tell you you should have, who would make a profit? I tend to define commercialism as: the production of commercials, movies, and other advertisements to encourage the overspending of individuals who become emotionally and psychologically influenced to produce an unrealistic holiday season. One of the reasons why I am so against commercialism is because I have seen, first hand, what it does to many, many people. It’s a letdown to say the least.
- Make it simple: Make your holiday simple. Gather with only those you truly love and care about. Don’t feel pressured to go overboard. Don’t feel pressured to have the best gifts, the biggest parties or gatherings, or the brightest house. Why should you? Focus on spreading joy and love, not competing or tiring yourself out. You can’t enjoy the small moments that way.
- Acknowledge what is right: Even if everything is going wrong and you see no silver lining, look for the smallest bit of joy or hope you can find. Is it a cute and cheerful baby at the grocery store? Is it the huge and love you get from your child before he/she leaves for school? Is it the fact that you have food and shelter for the holiday? Whatever it is, acknowledge it and then show gratitude.
- Be balanced: Being balanced might include giving yourself a break when you make a mistake or miss a party/gathering. It might also include exercising, eating healthy, or doing something relaxing during this time of year. You might find it beneficial to engage in self-care (i.e., doing fun and relaxing things) to help yourself cope and remain balanced. Work, work, and more work will drain you. Competition will also drain you, especially if you feel you may have failed. Avoid it.
- Avoid overeating, overindulging, or overspending: Overdoing anything during holiday time can truly bring on depression faster than you think. When you start to feel guilty for overdoing something, you can feel wrecked by the emotions experienced. Guilt, regret, or anger are not emotions you should be experiencing at this time.
- Reach out to others: It is important to reach out to other people all throughout the year, not just during Christmas time. But because Christmas time can be a very stressful and depressing experience for many more people than you may think, you reaching out to them may be one of the best things that happened to them. Doing a small and kind gesture can change someone’s day and perhaps even their entire outlook on life.
- Spend the day your way: A Christmas where you have to do everything you don’t really want to do is the worst Christmas ever. Don’t do it. You have the right to spend it how you want. If you don’t, you’re most likely going to be depressed, irritable, or anxious.
- Minimize (or don’t use) alcohol: Alcohol can not only dull your senses, especially if you are intoxicated/drunk, but change your attitude. Being drunk at a Christmas gathering is the wrong thing to do. Things get said that should not be said. Things happen that should not happen. And sometimes overindulgence in alcohol can lead to depression. Alcohol is, by nature, a depressant and it doesn’t always make you happy. Considering the consequences of using it will be important during this time.
- Do the best you can: Some families struggle with the smallest things when it comes to Christmas time such as cleaning the house for parties or gatherings, coordinating schedules, visiting family members and friends, traveling, purchasing gifts, and even clothing choices for Christmas Day. It is important to remember that you are only human and while you may strive to do everything “perfectly,” being perfect is not easy because it doesn’t exist. Stay balanced.
- Pursue a meaningful Christmas: When I was about 10 years old I found out my great grandmother had been struggling with dementia and stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her illness was so traumatizing and new to my family that Christmas time simply wasn’t an immediate priority for my family. Sadly, I didn’t realize this until my mom and grandmother told me we could not spend Christmas Eve shopping at our favorite toy store, a tradition developed overtime by my mom and grandmother. Christmas Day, however, turned out to be one of the best Christmas’s I had ever had. I woke up the next day, looked around at a beautifully decorated home, and saw my immediate family all together eating breakfast. I sat down at the table and listened to all of the funny and heartwarming stories my family discussed. My heart was warmed by their love, their collective energies, and the beauty of the day. For my family, the Birth of Jesus and love between family was an important focus of the day. I can say, now that I am so much older, that this Christmas changed my life. It changed my outlook, my expectation(s), and my focus. How will you make your Christmas mean something this year?
Do you have tips on how to cope with the holidays?
Have you found specific tools to help you?
What is one of thing you absolutely can’t stand about the holiday season?
Whichever way you decide to celebrate this year, I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with peace, love, and contentment.
I wish you well