Ah, the holiday season. Festive lights, smiling people, glowing firesides and all the images that a Bing Crosby album conjures up. However cozy and quaint, this picture-perfect version of “the most wonderful time of the year” isn’t accurate for many for whom it might bring feelings of dread.
Often those who have suffered a loss, people who have had difficult holiday experiences in the past, introverts (*raises hand*), and those who have experienced trauma have a hard time. They say, “I feel like the weird one,” or “No one understands why I feel the way I do.” Many survive by faking it, forcing their way through the demands of the season, stumbling into January in a post-holiday depression with a desire to further withdraw from our lives and feeling sad, irritable or frustrated. If this is the real cost of the holidays, what can we do differently?
1. Stop faking it. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Your emotions are valid and they’re trying to communicate something important to you like, “This hurts!”. If you burned your hand in the oven, would you force yourself to do it over and over again?
2. Identify what you need and ask for it. Introverts often talk about the holidays as being a nightmarish time of year with rarely a moment to recharge. If that’s you, schedule in some quiet time between commitments and re-think the number of gatherings you’re attending. Those who are grieving notice their emotions are especially raw at this time of year, so stepping up your self-care and giving yourself permission to do less of everything can be the difference between burnout and a manageable (if not celebratory) holiday season. Individuals who have experienced trauma – particularly within their family – often feel a building tension as the holidays approach. Exercising your ability to keep yourself away from things that feel unsafe is empowering and healing. Remember that genetic relatedness does not always equate to safe, warm, and predictable bonds.
3. Pick and choose how you use your resources. Be honest with yourself about how much time and money you can commit to gatherings and gifts (don’t forget – every gift bought is also time spent shopping) and still come out whole in January. Consider skipping the mall and instead make donations in the name of recipients and rotating your attendance at certain events instead of doing them all.
The holiday season can be a meaningful time. However, if your December isn’t merry and bright, the most healing gift you can give yourself is permission to feel as you do.
Blog Author -- Jodie Voth, RMFT
Jodie is a full-time therapist and owner of Voth Family Therapy. She enjoys working with teens and motivated adults who are working through transitions and relationship challenges.