It’s the holiday season! Times of cheer, gift giving, magic in the air and time spent with loves ones. This is “the happiest time of the year”, they say. The people in the commercials look oh so happy. Everyone is wishing each other a great holiday and sharing about their fun plans. However, you find yourself asking why you aren’t feeling the same way. Why you aren’t feeling the way you are told you are supposed to be feeling. Maybe you find yourself putting on a forced smile during the day, but then crawling into your bed and never wanting to come out. As lonely as this may feel, you aren’t alone. Feeling the “Holiday blues” is common, and instead of having to suffer through the holidays wishing they were over, being able to identify your triggers and find healthy coping mechanisms will help you make it through the season.
The holidays can trigger all kinds of painful emotions and if you already suffer from depression or anxiety, these symptoms can be intensified during this time of year. Here are a few stressors that may be impacting you this holiday season:
- Financial stress: We are surrounded by expectations and pressure to give gifts and host lavish parties or wear new outfits we haven’t been seen in yet. It can feel like a competition over who got their child the newest trendiest toy or electronic, or who’s house is decorated the best.
- Family dysfunction: Holidays typically bring the family together, which means more opportunity for family conflict. I know when I’m with my family I sometimes feel as if I reverted right back into my adolescents, becoming easily irritated by the way my family operates.
- Loneliness: Speaking of the holidays bringing family together, for those who aren’t able to be with their family or choose not to be, the holidays can be incredibly lonely and isolating.
- Grief: If you’ve lost a loved one, this season is likely to bring back feelings of grief as you are reminded that they aren’t here to share these memories with you.
- Post-holiday blues: If you do have a joyful holiday, returning back to your normal routine and leaving behind the excitement of being surrounded by loves ones can leave you feeling down and searching for meaning.
Here are a few tips to help cope with these feelings this holiday season:
- Be aware of what triggers you and plan accordingly. When we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings we gain awareness of what triggers us. This can help us be better prepared for what life throws at us. For example, if you know money is tight and that the holidays are likely to stress you out financially, then you came prepare your family in advance and set expectations around gift giving. You could also come up with something creative, such as a Secret Santa, where everyone in the group only gives one gift to a randomly selected person rather than everyone giving everyone gifts. If you typically find yourself feeling lonely around the holidays, make plans to be a part of something bigger than yourself, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter.
- Keep boundaries and set limits with your family members. For instance, if you know having your family stay the entire holiday weekend is going to be too overwhelming for you and set you over the edge, plan a shorter visit and stick to it. If you’re left feeling criticized by your parents during their visits, speak up and don’t engage in those conversations. Remember that you can’t please everyone and that the rest of the family might be dealing with difficult emotions too!
- Give yourself compassion. We are told to give to others, but we first need to take care of our own needs and nurture ourselves. Take some time to acknowledge your hard work and the patience you have for your family. Give yourself a gift, whether that simply be some alone time or something more tangible.
- Seek professional help. Speaking to someone outside of your family and friends can be very beneficial no matter what you’re going through. A mental health therapist can provide you a safe space to process your feelings and help you get to the root of the problem and find individualized ways to cope. For instance, as an MFTI, I work with my clients on changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors that may be getting in the way of living the life they strive for, as well as working on being more mindful and self-compassionate.