Miriam Selph, MA, PsyD
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
It’s that time again! Christmas music is playing everywhere, children are buzzing with excitement, the “Elf on a Shelf” is traveling the house at night, and colorful lights are glowing brightly everywhere. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—right?
For many, this is a season of connection and joy. However, for many others, the holiday season can be a time of pain, stress, and loneliness, contrasted sharply against a backdrop of family gatherings and abundance. Many during this season struggle with feeling isolated and depressed. The days get darker earlier, leading some to seasonal depression. Family gatherings highlight the absence of loved ones who have passed away. As a result, grief is typically at its highest during the holidays. Gift-giving puts financial strain and pressure on those struggling to make ends meet or who are just trying to save. Those with unhealthy family dynamics have nowhere to go to connect with others. Those who do gather with family may feel tension and stress from family conflicts, family expectations, and getting pulled into old relational patterns. Traffic increases, and in stores you can feel a palpable increase in urgency and tension as a materialistic fist encircles everyone.
Is there any escape? Getting pulled into the yearly whirlpool of the holidays may feel inevitable. However, there are some strategies to help you circumvent or alleviate some of the stress, pain, and loneliness the holidays may bring:
If you have a spiritual or religious belief, lean into the real “reason for the season,” no matter what your personal beliefs may be. Getting in touch with why the season really exists may provide some peace and help you refocus on what your priorities really are during this time of year.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, find a way to memorialize them or honor them, such as visiting a gravesite, donating to a charity in their name, telling stories around the dinner table about the person, or writing a letter to them expressing your feelings. Connect with others who knew them and loved them and include them in your celebrations even though they may not be physically present.
If the idea of another holiday wears you out, throw off old traditions and expectations that are only making you stressed and tired. Tired of cooking a massive holiday feast? Try catering or take-out! Maybe try Chinese or Indian food to celebrate. Always the one hosting? Practice assertiveness and ask another family member to host this year. Let yourself off the hook for having the “perfect” clean home. Feeling pressure to travel? Prioritize your own family group and have a small holiday at home this year. Whatever the stressor is, change it up. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Don’t be afraid of others’ opinions if you know it is the healthy decision for you! If it is not bringing you joy, it is time to think about letting go and changing it up.
If struggling financially, downsize (or eliminate) the financial toll. Suggest only buying gifts for immediate family. Do “Secret Santa” within the family where everyone only buys one other person a single gift. Only give gifts to those under the age of 18. If religious or spiritual, think about forgoing the gifts altogether this season and instead focus on the spiritual meaning of this time. Teach your children that the holidays are about more than getting gifts. Budget what you can spend on the holidays and stick to it, to avoid the regret and anxiety of overspending.
If you are alone and feeling lack of meaning during this season, consider finding ways to give to others. Volunteer for a soap kitchen. Participate in your local toy drive. Donate to a charity of your choice. Find out what is being done in your community to reach out to others and get involved. Sometimes the best way to stop focusing on your own concerns is to focus on helping others.
If alone during the holidays without your family, try to connect with friends if you have them. If you don’t, take the time to focus on yourself and do something you love to do on the actual day. Go somewhere you enjoy, watch your favorite movie, do a spa-day at home, cook your favorite food (no matter what it is!), or take the day to rest and reflect. Whatever you do, make sure it is something you enjoy!
If you have a particularly contentious family, use the time to practice your boundary setting skills and gentle challenges. Remember that time with family is temporary, and when possible, avoid difficult or conflictual topics. Plan for what you might say or do if certain topics come up. Have boundaries clear and ready. Also, have a way that you can get a break (such as staying in a hotel instead of in someone’s home), or only plan a short stay. Finally, be compassionate with yourself! We all tend to get sucked back into old dynamics when around family. Do your best to break the patterns, but if you find yourself in familiar territory, be kind, do not judge yourself, and just try again next time.
If all else fails, remember that this season is temporary and will soon pass. In the meantime, if you need help navigating this difficult time, counseling can provide needed emotional support, strategies for managing complex feelings about the holidays, and tips to make it through. Don’t suffer through the holidays alone! At Cornerstone Counseling and Wellness, we would be honored to walk alongside you. For more information, please visit our website at www.cornerstonecounselingnc.net or call us at 984-235-2545.