When the Holidays Aren’t So Happy
For many years, I’ve kept a secret from many of my friends and coworkers: I really don’t like the holiday season. For many of us, the holidays are a time of stress, anxiety, and even loneliness and isolation. Those of us who don’t naturally boil over with holiday cheer can feel alienated from the festivites around us and fear being labeled a grinch by the apparent sea of revelers around us. There is a guilt that comes with not feeling festive during the holidays, and that can drive us into a vicious circle of further anxiety and depression.
There are many reasons many of us feel less-than-merry during this time of year. Among them are:
Social Expectations: The holiday season is often associated with spending time with loved ones and engaging in festive activities. For those who don’t have close relationships or struggle with social connections, the emphasis on togetherness during this time can intensify feelings of loneliness.
Comparison with Others: The holiday season is frequently portrayed as a time of joy, family gatherings, and celebrations. Seeing others seemingly enjoying these aspects of the season can lead to feelings of inadequacy or exclusion in those who don’t have similar experiences.
Loss or Grief: For individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one or are going through a challenging time, the holiday season can be a stark reminder of their absence. This can contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Isolation: Some people may not have a strong support system or may be physically isolated from friends and family during the holidays. This sense of isolation can contribute to feelings of loneliness.
Financial Strain: The pressure to give and receive gifts during the holiday season can be financially stressful for some individuals. Those who are unable to participate in gift-giving due to financial constraints may feel isolated or left out.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Some people experience a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, which tends to occur during the winter months. The lack of sunlight and colder weather can contribute to low mood and feelings of loneliness.
Unpleasant Past Experiences: Negative past experiences associated with the holidays, such as family conflicts or traumatic events, can lead to an aversion to the holiday and a reluctance to participate in festivities.
So what can we do about this if we’re feeling any or all of the above, or other related emotions during the holiday season? Coping with anxiety or sadness during the holidays can be challenging, but there are several strategies that may help improve your emotional well-being. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so it’s essential to find what works best for you. Here are some general tips that might be helpful:
Acknowledge Your Feelings: It’s okay to feel anxious or sad during the holidays. Allow yourself to acknowledge and accept your emotions without judgment. Understanding your feelings is the first step toward addressing them.
Reach Out for Support: Share your feelings with someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or therapist. Talking about your emotions can provide comfort and support, and you may find that others can relate to what you’re going through.
Set Realistic Expectations: Don’t put excessive pressure on yourself to create a perfect holiday experience. Set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish and focus on what brings you joy rather than adhering to societal expectations.
Establish Boundaries: If certain holiday activities or gatherings contribute to your anxiety, consider setting boundaries. It’s okay to decline invitations or limit your participation in events that may be overwhelming.
Create New Traditions: If past traditions are associated with negative emotions, consider creating new ones. This can help you reshape your holiday experience in a way that feels more positive and aligned with your current needs.
Practice Self-Care: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being by engaging in self-care activities. This could include getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, exercising, and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
Focus on Gratitude: Reflect on the positive aspects of your life and the things you are grateful for. Gratitude can shift your perspective and help you appreciate the good things, even during challenging times.
Limit Social Media Exposure: Comparing your holiday experience to others on social media can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or loneliness. Consider limiting your time on social media platforms if it negatively impacts your mood.
Volunteer or Give Back: Helping others can be a powerful way to lift your spirits. Consider volunteering your time or making a donation to a charitable cause. Acts of kindness can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Seek Professional Support: If your feelings of anxiety or sadness persist, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide valuable support and coping strategies tailored to your specific needs.
Remember that it’s okay to prioritize your well-being and make choices that support your mental health. Taking care of yourself during the holidays can be the best gift you can both give and receive.
Spending time at a residential treatment program can be a challenging experience for young people. Click here to read about what the holiday season is like at Mountain Valley.