Surviving or Celebrating the Holidays

Surviving or Celebrating the Holidays

Dr. Rick Petronella

The holiday season can bring mixed emotions for many. For some, it’s their favorite time of year. It’s a time of joy, celebration, family, and warmth.  For others, it can bring feelings of sadness and loss. It’s a time of remembering loved ones they have lost, struggles with addiction, financial worry, and other holiday stressors. And let’s not forget this year, we are approaching the holidays again during a pandemic!

Seeing old friends and family members may be exciting and may bring up memories of wonderful joy or it can bring us disappointments. Do you ever get together with your family and notice you’ve all of a sudden become that teenager again who’s arguing with your parents or siblings? Or, perhaps you find yourself looking at a sibling and thinking for the first time in 20 years, “Mom always loved him or her better.” Sometimes when we see family members, we revert to old childhood patterns which may hurt us and remind us of difficult times. Even though we think we’ve worked through these patterns, they just seem to crop right back up. Also, the added stress of caring for and supporting a loved one struggling with mental health concerns and/or addiction can add to the pressure, sadness, and anxiety during the holiday season.

There is such a thing as the holiday blues. The holiday blues consist of feelings of anxiety and sadness during the holiday season due to financial concerns, feelings of loneliness, sleep problems, isolation, and loss of interest and pleasure in activities usually enjoyed. These symptoms may worsen during the 2021 holidays due to the current coronavirus pandemic and increased isolation, on top of the usual holiday stress. It may be difficult for those who have experienced the loss a loved one, or for those that are living far from family and friends.

It is important to emphasize that it is OK to not be OK during the holiday season. I have a phrase I often share with people, “Give yourself permission to not have it all together.” Remember, in the midst of struggling we do not have to stay in negative and painful places in our hearts… We can also choose to focus on the things in our life that we can be grateful for. 

Finding gratitude in everyday life is a journey. Some days finding ways to be thankful is more challenging than others, but on those hard days, remind yourself that the good outweighs the negative. This holiday season I challenge you to shift your brain’s natural tendency to focus on negativity into being able to focus on the positive. Let’s start off this season by gauging our level of being grateful for the many blessings all around us. Look around you. See the good. You’re a grateful person; recognize what people have done and continue to do for you.  Also, know you’re lucky to have what you have. Learn to enjoy the good. Don’t allow yourself to be trapped in the negative. Keep improving your gratitude levels with thankfulness – it’s a quick and easy way to capture the good that happens in your day. 

Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues

The holidays only come once a year and only last for a few weeks. If you follow these 10 tips, you might just find this year to be more joyful and less blue. 

1. Keep your regular routine.
A change in routine can lead to additional stress. Try to exercise at your usual time, go to meetings that you normally go to, and stick to your normal heathy diet. 

2. Think moderation.
While it may be easy to drink and eat too much at parties and special dinners, we should try not to overindulge with food and/or alcohol. Remember, eating and drinking may feel like they temporarily “ease the pain” of the holiday blues, but they can also lead to feelings of guilt.

3. Be realistic, and try not to expect the ideal holiday.
So many of us have an idealized version of what the holidays should be and are very disappointed when they don’t live up to those expectations. Try to be realistic. Remember, nobody has a perfect holiday or perfect family.

4. Stay connected.
Make sure to leave time to spend with friends and/or family who value you. And if they don’t live close by, call them for a reality check or some grounding. Remember to ask for support if you need it.

5. Throw guilt out the window.
Try not to put unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy, to rejoice, or even to enjoy the holidays. Likewise, try not to overanalyze your interactions with others. Give yourself a break this holiday season.

6. Don’t be alone if you don’t want to be.
If you anticipate spending the holidays alone, try to volunteer somewhere, like in a soup kitchen, with children in group homes, or the elderly in various facilities. People will so appreciate you that you may feel better about yourself, but more importantly, you’ll have company.

7. Focus on today, not yesterday.
There’s something about being with family and old friends that makes us become who we were and not who we are now. When you find yourself reverting to old childhood patterns with family members, try to walk away for a minute and remember who you are now. Also remember that it’s not necessary to play the same role as you did when you were younger, even if others are encouraging you to do so by their behaviors. If there is someone at the get-together who knows what you are like today, make sure to reach out to them and draw them into the interactions. That will help to ground you.

8. Just say no.
It’s OK to say no when you’re asked to do more than you can. It’s fine to say no to some invitations and fine to say no to those asking for favors. Remember, this is your holiday, too! 

9. Ask for help.
Holidays are often a time that people attempt to take on too much or do too much on their own. It’s OK to ask for help from family and friends. Whether it is for decorating, shopping, cooking. Just ask for a shoulder to lean on.

10. Be good to yourself.
If you’re feeling blue, take care of you. Do what feels good, and what you want to do. Try to take a walk or spend time alone, if that’s what you want. Remember, this is your holiday, too, and you can be there for yourself just like you try to be for everyone else.

Here are some things that can help depression, anxiety, and the holiday blues:

If you find it difficult to overcome your depression, therapy can allow you to focus on you. It allows you to increase your ways of coping with tough situations and thoughts. Finding the right-fit therapist will help you increase your stress-relieving skills and ability to cope with stressful, sad, or difficult experiences in your life. Therapy does not have to be a reaction to something negative in your life. Just as you would go to your primary care physician (PCP) for a wellness visit, therapy can be a preventative tactic to support living your life in a healthy way.

Support groups. Support groups are a wonderful way of connecting with others who may be struggling with something similar. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers many free support groups. 

Talking to family and friends. Give a family member or friend a call. Even if it’s just to say, “just wanted to call and say hi.” Set up a Zoom call with a friend and family as a means of staying connected.

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