There is immense societal pressure around this time of year to be happy, thankful, and joyful. All the songs and movies seem to echo a message of good cheer and merriment. You’d be hard pressed to escape them. It’s a wonderful goal, but, often, unrealistic. Here are few things to remember as we enter this overwhelming season that can help you stay grounded.
Feeling Like There is a Void: Feeling that there is “something missing” is a normal emotion that we experience, particularly if we have experienced loss. Our feelings of what is missing or who is no longer with us are often amplified during the holidays. We need to remember to be kind to ourselves and others, keeping in mind the losses that one has endured and how they may affect one’s feelings during this time of year. From a non-judgmental perspective, we can understand and accept that the holidays may not always result in feelings of happiness.
Feeling Triggered: Triggers are events that throw us back emotionally to past traumas. For some, the holidays, rather than inspiring a sense of wonder, bring up feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness related to things that have happened in the past. It is important to remember and respect each person’s unique life story and what they have experienced in order to understand that no holiday is an emotional “one-size-fits-all.”
Feeling Exhausted or Burned Out: In a season of constant movement, you may feel completely wiped out. It is ok to allow yourself to rest; it is ok to set boundaries regarding how much time you spend at events and how much you engage; it is ok to decline invitations if it is healthier for you to take some time to yourself.
Feeling Overwhelmed: This time of the year brings with it an emotional, mental, physical, and financial burden. Feelings of overwhelm are common and provide an opportunity to practice self-care. Asking ourselves “how do I feel and what do I need” can be helpful in naming emotions and providing the self-soothing that is required to help us manage the season.
Feeling Unable to Meet Societal Expectations of the Season: The immense pressure to be happy during the holidays is not only unreasonable, but also potentially damaging to our mental health. While popular culture, media, advertising, and social media make it seem that nothing less than pure, unadulterated joy is acceptable, in fact, we may feel a range of emotions (all healthy) from joy to sadness to anxiety to burn-out, and so on. The key is to allow yourself to feel them all rather than to judge yourself for not feeling overcome with joy all through the season.
Feelings of Sadness: Feeling sad is a natural human emotion. Just because the holidays are marketed as a “happy” time of year does not mean that feeling sad is somehow unacceptable or wrong. Our feelings are always ok, and, particularly during such a stressful and high-expectation laden time of year, we must allow ourselves to feel whatever we feel compassionately and non-judgmentally.
Feelings of Envy and Comparison: It is human nature to measure ourselves against others and this is even easier to do around the holidays as we are inundated with pictures and stories of happy families, social media posts, cheesy movies and shows, and the like. It is helpful to remember that “perfect” does not exist, particularly in family dynamics. Letting go of an expectation of a “perfect day” can be helpful in recognizing that, though it may appear so outwardly, most things are imperfect at some level, and this includes the others with whom we compare ourselves.
By Phil Lane, LCSW
This post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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