The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. At least that’s what the song says – and the movies, and T.V. shows, and magazines, and your social media feed. The result is tremendous pressure to be happy, to enjoy time with your family, to find the perfect gifts, and create a magical experience for your children.
The gap between what we think we should be doing and what we can actually accomplish is enormous during the holiday season. There’s no way to have a holiday that looks like it does in the movies.
In fact, 64% of people are affected by the “holiday blues”, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. So, if you feel sad, overwhelmed, stressed, or a sense of dread about the holidays, you’re certainly not the only one struggling.
What makes the holidays hard for you?
The holidays are hard for a lot of people, but the reasons can vary greatly. Identifying the particular reasons for your holiday stress can help you find the right solutions for you. So, instead of simply saying I don’t like the holidays, try to pinpoint the reason(s).
Holiday stress or holiday blues can be a result of any of the following:
- Grief and loss. You’re missing someone or something.
- Busyness. You’re overwhelmed by too much to do and have difficulty saying no.
- Financial pressures. The holidays include added expenses and the pressure to spend beyond your means can leave you in debt or feeling bad because you can’t afford more.
- Family conflicts. Your family tends to be riddled with arguments, high-drama, crises, or other conflicts.
- Pressure to be perfect. You feel like you have to get it all right – the entertaining, gift-giving, decorating, baking, and so forth.
- Traumatic memories. You associate the holidays with painful memories.
- Depression or other mental illnesses. If you already suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems, holiday stress can exacerbate your symptoms. And the dark, cold days that we have in the Northern Hemisphere during December can contribute to seasonal depression and isolation.
- Pressure or temptation to eat or drink excessively. We’re inundated with sugary treats and are encouraged to overindulge in food and drink. This can be stressful if you’re trying to eat healthfully or moderate or abstain from drinking. And too much alcohol and sugar can negatively impact your mood and overall health.
- Introversion or High Sensitivity. Holiday parties, bright lights, crowds, and noise can be overwhelming and exhausting for introverts and Highly Sensitive People.
- Loneliness. You’re alone during the holidays or you don’t feel connected to the people you’re with.
Tip: As you identify why the holidays are difficult for you, try not to judge your reasons as valid or invalid, but rather accept them as what’s true for you.
Acknowledge your feelings
You don’t have to enjoy the holidays. I know there’s a lot of pressure, but forcing yourself to be happy rarely works. It’s more helpful to acknowledge your true feelings, validate them, and allow them space to exist. You can do this through quiet reflection, naming your emotions, accepting your feelings (i.e. I accept that I’m feeling sad. It’s okay for me to feel sad.), talking to a therapist, journaling, reminding yourself that feelings don’t last forever, and being curious about why you’re feeling this way.
Be good to yourself
If you’re struggling, be good to yourself.
The holidays aren’t just about making other people happy. You don’t have to go through the holiday season like a robot, meeting everyone’s expectations, following all the traditions, but not enjoying any of it. Your feelings and needs matter just as much as everyone else’s.
We all know how to be good to others, but we’re not always good to ourselves. Now is the perfect time to start considering your needs and wants.
You don’t have to do what you’ve always done
One of the joys of adulthood is that you are entitled to make your own choices. If your current holiday traditions, expectations, and plans negatively affect your mental and/or physical health, it’s okay to change them. You don’t have to do what you’ve always done. Remember, you need to be good to yourself. And if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
You know better than anyone else, what’s right for you. Yes, your family may be upset if you don’t come to Christmas dinner this year. They are entitled to their feelings, but that doesn’t mean your choice is wrong. It’s just different – and perhaps unexpected. Some people in your life will be able to adjust and respect your boundaries – and others may not. You don’t owe them a detailed explanation of your reasons. Just politely say something like this:
You: “This year I’m going to be spending Christmas at my friend Rosie’s. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think it’s going to be really good for me.”
Your mother: “Oh, so you like Rosie’s family better than ours. You really know how to rip my heart out.”
You: “I know it’s a big change, Mom.”
Don’t get sucked into a defensive stance. Keep your boundaries direct, calm, and polite.
Spend your time doing something fulfilling
If shopping and holiday parties aren’t fun for you, look for activities you would enjoy or find fulfilling. Is there a part of the holidays that you enjoy, perhaps baking or donating gifts to those less fortunate? Or maybe you find solace in attending church services or singing carols at a nursing home. Alternatively, it doesn’t have to be anything holiday-related. Maybe you enjoy skiing or curling up with a good book in front of a fire. Find something that will meet your needs, not create more stress, and prioritize it during the next month.
Instead of just going through the motions this year, consider what’s right for you. What will meet your needs? What will bring you joy? What will reduce your stress?
Most importantly, be good to yourself. Your feelings and needs are valid.
©2019 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com.