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The Not So Happy Holidays (and How to Cope)

My precious parrot, Pearl, celebrates National Coffee Day with his mommy.

A holiday is an odd bird, indeed.

Some holidays are literally thousands of years old. Other holidays (World Naked Gardening Day, anyone?) are clearly of a more recent vintage.

There are so many holidays and commemorative days with close ties to religion, politics, gender, pop culture, history, public figures, myths and legends, food….dig down far enough, and it can actually be hard to find a new holiday that hasn’t already been invented!

But truthfully speaking, no matter how personally meaningful one holiday or another may be (I’m personally a big fan of National Coffee Day), the majority of holidays are relatively small potatoes.

And then there are “The Holidays.” You know the ones I’m talking about.

Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Literally taking over the last two months of every year like clockwork and bookended throughout by the aptly-named “shopping holidays” (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, et al), these are the holidays everyone stresses about.

“The Holidays” can be enough to send some of us to the medical clinic (cold-and-flu season being another classic end-of-year tradition) and others to the morgue (January has the highest mortality rate annually out of all 12 months each year).

Thanks in large part to grand-scale marketing efforts, spending “The Holidays” with family and/or friends often feels more like a requirement than a recommendation. God help the poor stateside soul spending these significant dates solo. Even if you want to go it alone – even if you don’t care because holidays weren’t a big deal in your family of origin – and even if you don’t really have a choice – it can feel mighty odd to find yourself  at visibly loose ends in the midst of everyone else’s action-packed agendas.

I didn’t really begin to understand why I got depressed like clockwork at the end of each year until I decided to major in business marketing in college. One day, my marketing research professor rolled out a bunch of holiday ads and challenged us to decode their meanings.

Suddenly, a lifelong missing piece snapped into place. 

All at once I could feel the strings attached to my arms, legs, heart, mind, mouth, belly, feet and – most importantly – wallet. AH. HA. My hyper-awareness of holidays big and small wasn’t just because summer breaks, midterms and final exams tended to fall right around those times. There were powerful marketing machinations afoot, and by golly they were working!

Now, don’t get me wrong – economically speaking, the invention of “The Holidays” is nothing short of brilliant. All that holiday shopping does annual wonders for our sagging economy, and for that reason I see it as a relatively small price to pay for living here in the wonderful land of ongoing free enterprise and limitless entrepreneurial  opportunity.

But “The Holidays” do tend to stretch pretty much everything else way out of proportion along with our budgets.

The holidays find us saying and doing things we don’t say or do at any other time of year. Many of us make an effort to see people we don’t even want to see or at least never think about attempting to see during the other months of the year. We get bent out of shape that such-and-so can’t or won’t attend the regular holiday gathering, even if we have standing plans or regular visits with them for other times during the year.

All this to say, some of the blame for the stress triggered by “The Holidays” each year lies squarely with the big box marketing companies and their manic-panic economic concerns.

But all the rest of the holiday stress….well, that is ours. That stress is a purely inside job. And that particular stress won’t go away until we decide this is the last year we and our stress will spend Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve together.

I’ll be honest. The only effective way I have ever found to cope with the not so happy holidays is to set my standards high and my boundaries higher. I simply have to speak up, to speak my truth, especially when the thought of attending a particular holiday gathering makes my stomach twist and triggers hopeful thoughts for an oncoming bout of seasonal stomach flu.

More than at any other time of year, for everyone’s sake, I must make sure my yes is a yes and my no is a no.   I must make only the commitments – both in time and with my finances – that I know I can keep. I must avoid doing anything or going anywhere simply out of a sense of obligation or a desire to “keep the peace.” I must follow where my heart leads, whether that is where others in my life happen to want me to go or not.

Finally, I have to remember that stress about “The Holidays” tends to be contagious – at least as contagious as the average cold and flu germs. When so many people are feeling so much stress all at the same time, it can permeate the air and the earth and the world around me and seep inside my skin and make me think it is all mine and all my doing.

But it isn’t all mine. Strip away the advertising and the gift wrapping and the great deals and the obligatory rituals and the themed social gatherings and what you find underneath is a day. It is just a day. One day pretty much like any other.

Once I remember this, I know I am going to be okay. I will make it through “The Holidays” yet again, with 10 blissful months to recuperate until they arrive again next year.

Today’s Takeaway: Are you someone who just loves the holidays – the cheer, the snacks, the music, the meaning? Or are you more likely to duck (or run) when you see the holidays heading in your direction yet again? What do you think causes the near-universal holiday stress so many of us struggle with? Do you have a favorite coping skill to ease any personal holiday stress you feel?

The Not So Happy Holidays (and How to Cope)

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). The Not So Happy Holidays (and How to Cope). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Nov 2018
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