Is it that time of year already?
Though for most people it seems the November/December season is “the most wonderful time of the year,” for many it’s often the most dreaded time of the year.
In follow-up to my post on Fall Blues, for those of us prone to feeling down in the winter we’re now entering into the season of Winter Blues. In addition to that, major holidays have a strange way of reminding us of many of life’s challenges.
On one level, there are the issues of the present, such as how to deal with whatever insane dynamics you may have going on in your family. Or maybe the holidays are a reminder that you don’t have a family to turn to. Maybe you don’t have anywhere you feel you belong and spending the holidays alone only serves as a reminder of how lonely you feel in general.
Additionally, there tends to be the irony of hustle and bustle that goes with the holidays. There’s lots of gifts to buy, food to prepare, and parties to attend. Meanwhile, you may be trying to watch your weight in the midst of endless tasty junk food offered to you at every turn. For our friends in recovery from problem alcohol use, you may face a similar dilemma of tirelessly turning down the temptation of a drink available at every turn.
On a deeper level, there are issues of the past to battle. Our minds store emotional memories together with various stimuli we experience at the time a memory is stored. Maybe this will be your first holiday season after a divorce and the sound of holiday music alone is enough to bring up an emotional reminder of the memories of the past. Or maybe you associate the holidays with negative memories such as horrific family encounters from the past and being around symbols of this time of year fill you with the same horror you once felt before.
This list only begins to touch the surface of the types of difficulties people can experience around the holidays. Charlie Brown sums it up well each time the Christmas special pops up on TV: “Good grief!”
So How do we Deal with the Holidays?
First, I want to say that whatever negative experience you may have in response to this time of year, it’s totally normal. One thing I dislike about media surrounding the holiday season is everyone seems to be portrayed as blissfully happy without a care in the world. Though it would be nice for us all to feel this way, the problem with portraying the holidays this way is it can foster a sense of shame: There must be something wrong with me because I can’t enjoy the holidays like everyone else. What a terrible feeling to have! Somehow the most wonderful time of the year can become fuel for the greatest shame of the year. To those of you who relate, I assure you there is nothing wrong with you. What you’re experiencing may be rough, but it’s not abnormal. I hope you can remind yourself of that even after you read this post.
Second, I invite you to consider what healthy boundaries may be in your power to set during the holidays. Some of the difficult parts of the season may be unavoidable, but I wonder if there are some difficulties in your power to change? Maybe you need permission to celebrate with a different group of people than you typically feel obligated to. Maybe you need permission not to attend any parties or festivities this year as you grieve a loss. Maybe you need permission to let somebody else host or cook this year. Maybe you might need a nudge to ask a loved one to not serve alcohol this year, or offer alternative options.
Third, I invite you to plan in advance what kind of self care you will allow yourself during the rough parts of the season. If there is a particular date that evokes painful memories, what will you plan for that day to take care of yourself? Maybe it’s a day to rest, or to be with family, or to get away. If you typically feel overwhelmed by the never-ending list of party invites, I wonder if you would consider scheduling a “you-party;” pick a day on your schedule when you will decline any party invitations and you will simply do whatever you want to do during that time. Whatever it is that makes the holidays difficult for you, I encourage you to put things in your schedule to help you combat the difficulties.
The amount we feel we have to give in order to enjoy the holidays is quite a backwards way of thinking. I hope for a day in the future where we can give from the freedom and generosity of our spirit rather than feeling as though we have a long list of obligations hampering our ability to enjoy the season.
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re in need of support, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
For whatever holidays you may be celebrating this season, I hope you rest, find peace, and experience joy – wherever you may be in life.