Stay Focused on True Meaning of Holidays (article featured in The Tennessean)

‘Tis the season to be jolly. This is the expectation that we set for ourselves and others at this time of year, yet this is also the time when therapists’ calendars are flooded with appointments. Families’ imperfections and discord become more salient, and people often begin to focus on what they aren’t able to purchase as opposed to what they already have. People put pressure on themselves to achieve the happiest of holidays when, in fact, holidays include the same stressors as other times of the year. Holidays can be joyous, spiritually impactful, and helpful in allowing us to recommit to what is important. Here are some tips to encourage us to rid ourselves of the pressures of the season and to stay focused on the true meaning holidays.

  1. Set realistic expectations. Rid yourself of the idyllic images of perfect family photos, finding the most desired gift for everyone on your list, and feeling endlessly joyful for time with family. This doesn’t mean to disregard feelings of happiness or excitement related to holidays, but rather remind yourself that the events of the season are not going to turn out perfectly. Casseroles will burn, families will bicker, children will cry, and Santa may not be able to bring everything on the list. These things are bound to happen because life is imperfect and unpredictable. So setting the expectation of perfection will, no doubt, result in disappointment. Contrarily, accepting these events as normal, inevitable occurrences of the holidays will allow you to disregard what is unimportant and to enjoy the more salient joyous moments.

  2. Acknowledge feelings of sadness or loss. Holidays can be difficult. For some, it is a reminder of lost loved ones or lost relationships. There are many who will spend the holidays alone and who will grieve the memories of the family times once shared. Ignoring these feelings of grief can, in the short-term, be seemingly helpful. However, suppressing such feelings for an extended period of time can lead to bereavement issues and depression. Allowing yourself to feel the sadness of loved ones lost can be therapeutic and healing at this time of year.

  3. Give. Remember that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Helping others and focusing on being charitable, as opposed to concentrating on your own list of wants, will give your holiday more significance. If monetary giving isn’t an option, consider giving of your time and emotional support to those in need.

  4. Remember that there are many who are less fortunate that you are. Regardless of your current situation, there is certainly someone who is in greater need. Don’t invalidate sad feelings you may have, but rather focus on the “haves” as opposed to the “have nots.” There are always things to be thankful for, and there are certainly others who would find your situation more desirable than their own.

Focus on the meaning of the holidays. Holidays are not about decorations, presents, feasting, or parties. Rather, the holidays are a time to show graciousness, selflessness, mercy, and bestow happiness on others. Perhaps remembering that the holidays are an opportunity to center ourselves spiritually, and to improve others’ lives as opposed to our own, will allow us to navigate this time of year with the sense of joy that comes from giving rather than receiving.

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