Why do we do this to ourselves?! There are 12 months in the year, but we pack more into December than in any other month. From family dinners, office parties and socializing, to seasonal, religious and New Year’s observances, December is chock full of all kinds of celebrations and activities.
Unfortunately, while it’s considered a festive time of harmony, reconnecting and starting anew, the holiday season can be difficult for some of us; an emotional rollercoaster that can bring on feelings of anxiety, frustration, loneliness and depression.
First, if you find this time of year to be emotionally overwhelming, you’re not alone. As reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the U.S., 64% of survey respondents reported that they are affected by the ‘holiday blues’.
Just realizing that you’re not alone in your feelings during the holidays (in fact, if the survey is even close to correct, you’re in the majority) can be the first step to understanding your condition.
And simply by becoming more aware of what it is about the holidays that triggers your feelings, you can look for coping mechanisms that can make the season more enjoyable for you.
Try to Spot the Stressors and Look for Ways to Address Them
It’s not the holidays themselves that cause your symptoms. We all have different mental and emotional characteristics, and different aspects of the holidays can affect each of us in different ways. By learning the stressors that bring on your symptoms, you can better prepare yourself to manage and minimize them.
- Unrealistic Expectations – As Andy Williams croons “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!’. Wow. That’s quite a reputation to live up to. Whether it’s all the happy holiday themes, idealized childhood memories or built-up anticipation, the holidays are packed with high expectations that are very difficult to meet.Try to keep things in perspective. Instead of expecting ‘the most wonderful time’, understand that the season will have its ‘ups and downs’. If you can focus on making the best of the highs and lows that the holidays bring, they’ll probably be not so bad after all.
- Loneliness – Whether you live away from family and friends, or they are all around but you don’t feel connected, the holidays can bring on or exacerbate feelings of loneliness.If reconnecting with your existing social networks is difficult or impossible, maybe you can look for new ones. Perhaps you can reach out to acquaintances who are in the same situation, or volunteer at the food bank; they sure can use the help right now.
- Being Overwhelmed – Who can blame you? A busy social schedule, shopping, cooking, travel; they can all add up to bring on feelings of anxiety about not getting it all done, and/or physical and mental exhaustion from trying to get it all done. It’s really thoughtful that you want to get a gift for the security person in your condo, but if you’re feeling fatigue, tension and/or frustration due to all your other holiday activities, you may need to step back, find some time for yourself and, quite literally, take a breath.
- Existing Issues – If you already face mental health challenges or stressors that might be unrelated to the holidays, like financial problems, strained relationships or the passing of a loved one, the notion that you’re supposed to be ‘happy’ during the holidays can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety, frustration and depression that you feel.Try to prepare yourself as best you can for what may be inevitable. It’s normal to feel sadness if someone is no longer with you to enjoy the holidays, or to be concerned about the bills. If you’re better prepared for the issues, you may be able to manage them, instead of fighting them and potentially causing even more stress.
- Being Tough on Yourself – As you reflect on the year past, you might have a sense that you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do, or that your life is somehow ‘stuck’.Rather than regretting what you didn’t do, try to be grateful for everything you have and anything that you might have accomplished, even if it seems minor or wasn’t part of your plan. And, as you look forward to the New Year, think about setting more reasonable goals and resolutions, like being kinder to yourself.
The holiday season is a unique time when we go out of our way to reflect, connect and give. But they can be very stressful. If you have problems dealing with your emotions or feelings, talking to mental health professional can help.
I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.
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