The Holiday Season is upon us. While for most people it is a fun time spent with family and friends, for some, particularly anyone who has suffered a loss during the past year, it can be a time of struggle. If you, or someone you know, struggles with the coming of the Holidays, the following information and specific tips for handling the Holiday blues may be helpful.
The Holiday Season is a time full of joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings. However, for many people it is a time of self-evaluation, loneliness, reflection on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future. Add to this the fact that in our region the days have become their shortest and the nights their longest; even the sunlight appears thin and watery. As in nature, winter is a time marked by decreased activity and, in us, increased introspection and self-reflection. Sometimes potentially worrisome issues that we have managed to put off during the spring, summer and fall suddenly seem to loom large and ominous.
Holiday Blues affect men and women, young and old. Many factors may contribute to the Holiday Blues, such as increased stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, inability to be with family or friends, memories of past holiday celebrations, over-commercialization, financial constraints and change in diet and daily routines.
I would like to focus briefly on the two factors I see most often in my clinical practice: unrealistic expectations and over-commercialization. From the time we are children we start to build up expectations about what Christmas should be: a magic time of the year when wishes are granted, excitement and mirth reign in our household and the whole world is sufficed with peace and joy. These expectations continue to reside in our subconscious, even as we grow well into adulthood.
In addition, we are constantly bombarded by the media during this season with images of perfect people, with perfect features and figures, exchanging perfect gifts with their perfect family and perfect friends. While all of this perfection is nominally intended to sell merchandise, what it also sells is the notion that we as individuals are somehow out of step or inadequate to the extent that our lives fail to measure up to these ubiquitous perfect images. These images are skillfully crafted and potent in their dubious impact.
I think the single biggest point to consider when dealing with the Holiday Blues is this: You are not alone! Research indicates that as many as one person in two suffers in some degree from depression-like symptoms, anxiety or agitation during the Holiday Season. People invariably imagine that they are the only ones who feel out-of-step with the commercialized “holiday spirit.” Bearing in mind that you are not alone may prove beneficial as you plan how you’ll successfully manage the Holiday Blues this year.
The Do’s and Don’ts of managing the Holiday Blues
Do establish realistic goals and expectations for the holidays. Pace yourself. Organize and prioritize your time. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Make lists.
Do know your spending limit and stick to it. The best gifts come from the heart, not the size of the price tag. For people who already have everything or not in physical proximity, consider making a lump sum donation to charity in all their names. Enjoy holiday activities that are free such as concerts, shows and window shopping.
Do allow yourself to feel sad, lonely or melancholy, even if you choose not to express it. These are normal feelings, particularly during the holidays
Do spend time with people who care about you.
Do consider connecting with the true meaning of the season by attending services at your local house of worship. Consider reading Dickens’ wonderful book “A Christmas Carol”.
Do let go of the past and try to create new or different ways to celebrate. Consider reconnecting with an old friend with whom you have lost touch.
Do consider sharing with someone less fortunate than you, volunteering some time to help others at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, hospital or nursing home.
Do be creative and spend another day as “Christmas” if that allows you to be with family or friends who were unavailable on December 25.
Do eat right, get plenty of rest and exercise.
Do treat yourself as a special holiday guest. Plan to prepare or purchase one special meal, purchase one special gift and take in one special event all for yourself.
Don’t drink too much alcohol or overindulge in sweet or fatty holiday foods.
Don’t dwell on the past: consider it, respect it and then focus on living in the present. Life brings changes; each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself or others.
Don’t spend money you don’t have.
Don’t feel obliged to feel festive. Accept your inner experience
Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Find someone to talk with who can help you through a difficult time: a family member, friend, clergyman, doctor or counselor.