Even though holidays are typically associated with joy, cheer, merriment, and togetherness, these days can also bring significant feelings of loneliness and loss. There are a number of reasons why people feel disappointment during what is thought to be the happiest season of the year. For some, the holidays are a reminder of the “have-nots” or what they simply cannot afford. For others, it is a time that underscores loss. There are children who have lost parents, parents who have lost children, and many who have lost other important loved ones or relationships. And, these negative feelings are complicated when social media and advertisements present pictures of perfection that lead some to feel as if they are not measuring up with their gifts, parties, and baking. How can we avoid these feelings of incompetence and sadness during the holidays?
While it might seem as if everyone’s schedule is full of obligations and social gatherings, there are many who do not have a substantial support system. For those feeling lonely, it is important to remember that, if you can’t give money, you can give your time. If financial hardship is leading you to feel guilty, then know that there are a number of other ways in which you can contribute. Volunteering your time to help others in need is often more helpful to them than purchasing gifts. Face to face interaction with people will prove more fulfilling for both you and them.
Don’t try to carry on traditions if they aren’t working for you and your family in the here and now. If something causes undue stress, then leave it off of the schedule. For some, there are endless activities and parties during this time of year, so don’t try to do it all. It is much more enjoyable and less stressful to make the most out of a small number of fun activities, rather than spreading yourself thin and trying to attend every engagement.
Remember why you celebrate. When things feel out of control, go back to the basics. Connect to your spirituality and make sure that you are focusing on what is most important to you and your family. Resist the temptation to spend vast amounts of time planning the perfect party, getting that perfect family picture, or comparing gifts on social media. Remind yourself that holidays are meant to be meaningful, not overwhelming.
Try not to overspend. It is easy to get caught up in the celebration and gift giving, but remember that moderation is key. Overspending can result in stress that will inevitably come after the New Year. Gifts can be thoughtful and useful without breaking the bank, and most people honestly do appreciate the thoughtfulness associated with your gift, regardless of the cost.
Acknowledge feelings of loss. If you are feeling the holiday blues, know that you are most certainly not alone. Most people experience some sadness related to loss or unmet expectations during the holidays. It is helpful to find a meaningful way of remembering people who can’t be with you and to allow yourself to pause and reflect on memories of them.
Know that everyone struggles. It is often those who seem to have it all together who are actually struggling the most. The reality is that no one has the perfect family or hosts the perfect holiday. Everyone has their own weaknesses, feelings of insecurity and unmet expectations for themselves. Avoid the tendency to idealize others’ situations and to perseverate on your own shortcomings. Most importantly, have compassion for others, even for those who seem to need it the least.
Differentiate feelings of sadness from symptoms of depression. While periods of sadness around the holidays are quite common, intense feelings of loss, guilt, and/or sadness can be a sign of something greater. Other red flags include the following: no longer enjoying activities that used to be fun for you, crying spells, significantly increased or decreased appetite, losing or gaining more than 10 pounds without dieting, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, trouble concentrating or making decisions, thoughts of death and/or suicide. If you are experiencing any of these, it is important to seek help. These symptoms suggest more than normal holiday blues and could be indicators of clinical depression that may not subside without treatment.
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