Christmas is a time of joy and magical wonder for many. But for many it can be a time of sadness and depression caused by the stresses and demands of the season. Holiday stresses can be financial but for some, they can serve as a reminder of unresolved personal relationships or be a recall of happy, but never to be recaptured memories, of departed loved ones. I felt compelled to write this post because someone close to me expressed, “You know Nancy, holidays are not always happy for everyone.” This comment left me grappling for the right words to respond at that moment. So if this post can help my loved ones or maybe someone else out there can also benefit, then this is my gift to you this holiday season.
Emotions get magnified during the holiday season. People who consider themselves able to handle most circumstances throughout the year, this time of year may be marked with explosive emotional outbursts. I know because it happened to me on our family’s annual Christmas tree shopping adventure, which turned into quite a Seinfeld episode trying to get everyone to agree on the same tree. Then to add fuel to the fire, I dared to try and capture the “perfect” family photo for my annual Christmas card on the same day. Well that ended being an emotional fiasco! Wasn’t my intention and didn’t plan it that way, but admittedly I put the pressure on myself to send out a picture “perfect” Christmas card for the past 25 straight years in a row and couldn’t bear the thought of breaking that tradition now. Reflecting back on it now, it was really silly and instead of enjoying the moment, I created my own self-induced and unnecessary pressure. However, the lesson learned was that the traditions I have imparted onto my children have remained important and vital to them which makes me very happy.
We all set expectations in our heads of how things are supposed to be, which can lead to disappointment if it doesn’t turn out exactly like the ideallic picture in our mind. An old friend recently brought up a painful childhood memory which seemed to have lingered around longer and penetrated much deeper than it normally would any other time of year. I knew of someone in which Christmas Eve would evoke such deep rooted emotions that despite their expectations and desperate desire for a beautiful and perfect Christmas Eve, they instead would barricade themselves in the comfort of their bedroom cocooning themselves from all their painful past memories. The ‘expected’ emotional component was just too much to handle, and depression and sadness becomes the comfortable haven to resort to during the season. For some, “Suffering the blues” may have become a patterned response at this time of year and a comfortable place to be, which tends to wash away with the culmination of the month and the start of the new year. We live in an imperfect world and we expect certain things from other people and circumstances. These expectations frequently center on special occasions like the holidays which can lead to seasonal depression. Another issue at this time of year, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also be a contributing factor in people’s depression, which is triggered by the shorter days, less day light and colder weather at this time of year.
Disappointment is at the core of a great deal of unhappiness. This can become an unhealthy time of overindulgences: Overeating, overdrinking, overspending, and the constant pounding of advertising on all forms of media and continual unrealistic portrayals of what the holidays should be like. Holidays are supposed to be refreshing and happy but they often cause burnout because of extra activities and scheduling.
Love holds families together and wards off loneliness but unfortunately love is frequently missing and loneliness sets in among singles, divorcees, widow/widowers, disabled, and the elderly. Therefore this can be a very difficult and sad time for these populations. Some survival tips would include seeking social support. It doesn’t have to be in big groups, it can be just connecting with those you enjoy. Seeking opportunities to help others will focus your attention on them rather than yourself. Going to the gym or just taking a nice, brisk walk in nature can promote mental health as well as physical health.
Also don’t overbook, limit your calendar, and schedule ahead. Limit your time on Facebook (yes, I really did say that!), but this is especially important around the holidays, people tend to only post the wonderful things going on in their lives and if you are not in a good place, this will definitely cause a serious case of FOMO. Eat wisely and rest appropriately. ‘Resolve’ to resolve personal relationships and DO IT! Comes to terms with your grief of those you miss by learning to get your emotions out. Learn to cry as well as laugh. Be there for someone else in similar need. Lean on each other. Commit a random act of kindness such a paying for the coffee behind you, offering to help someone carry their groceries, or shovel a neighbor’s driveway. You’ll see it will make your heart smile as well as put a smile on someone else. Make it a point to pay a compliment to someone every single day. This takes so little effort but you could be making the biggest difference in someone else’s day. Focus on the spiritual significance of the holiday. And maybe spend some alone time meditating, praying, and starting a gratitude journal. Change your thinking (choose to be happy) because New Years will be here before you know it, signaling the start of a new year and infinite new possibilities.
Lastly, forgive yourself for not being perfect and if you can’t get that damn perfect Christmas card out this year, so be it and allow yourself to be ok with it. This too shall pass.
May the holiday season bring you joy, happiness, be stress free (ha), and bring you peace. If you have the blues, may it bring you the strength to see it through and help you to realize all the blessings you do have. Merry Christmas and “Happy” Holidays to all!