Christmas is the time of year when music choruses of “Fa La La La La” chime through our ears. For some this may invoke joy, for others it can create dread, stress, depression and loneliness.
I come from a large Irish-Catholic family and when we were growing up, we lived on a shoe string. But we still celebrated Christmas with a fresh tree and food on the table. I don’t remember a sense of deprivation because I had something extraordinary: seven brothers and sisters. Because I was the baby of the family, the Holidays became all about eagerly anticipating the arrival of my sisters back home from college. For me, the Christmas Holiday signified reunification with family and fun.
Unfortunately, my mother’s annual expression of anguish on Christmas mornings would consistently deflate my Holiday cheer. She would express her sorrow over not having enough for her children. My mom was sold a line of goods about how the Holidays were supposed to look. Perhaps our financial situation somehow spoke to her sense of worth as a mother. For sure, societal expectations definitely rang through her ears.
Expectations around the Holidays can create stress and suffering for many. For those who have encountered loss, divorce, chronic depression or other big life changes, the Holidays can magnify such problems. They amplify what’s missing and reinforce our state of despair with the phrase: “Tis the season to be jolly.”
It’s possible though that we can redefine our expectations to identify that which will eliminate stress and hopefully cultivate some meaningful connection during this Holiday season.
Here are some thoughts and questions that may simplify and customize our Holiday experience:
- Ask yourself these questions: “How can the Holidays be meaningful to me and/or to my family? “How can I use the holidays to strengthen my relationships with others?” “Is there something to add to or subtract from my Holiday experience?” Keep asking these questions and ideas and images will likely come to you.
- Simplify in the gift department. Research shows that relationships, not things, are the key to happiness. People are moved by sentiment. A framed picture of you and that special person can be a touching gift. If you have a shared precious memory with that person, you can write about it and put it into a beautiful journal.
- Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Instead of reinforcing the thought that you “should” feel happy during the holidays, give yourself a break. Acknowledge and accept your feelings and don’t try to push them away. When we actively push away feelings, we unconsciously make them stronger. If you need to talk to a therapist, take the time to make a few phone calls to find a therapist that fits your needs.
- Seek Connection: If you are consumed by loneliness and sadness, don’t allow these feelings to isolate you. You can pick up the telephone and call a few people whom you love but with whom you rarely make contact. Let them know that their presence has been a gift and tell them why. If you’ve been curious about a club, a support group or a church, now is a perfect time to take the leap. You might also consider volunteer work that would entail serving or working with others.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption: Nothing is wrong with a bit of indulgence. However, alcohol will exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Go Christmas Caroling with others. There are documented psychological benefits when people sing together. Singing together creates an increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavor.
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise … It’s the most underutilized anti-depressant and anti-anxiety treatment on the market. A 30-minute walk with a friend is free and might even provide some talk therapy at no charge.
The key to Holiday sanity is to be conscious about your choices and to evaluate what works and doesn’t work for you. So while you may or may not experience “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” you can at least find moments of peace and connection.
Elizabeth Grant, LPCC, provides psychotherapy services in Los Alamos and is taking new clients. She can be reached at 505.660.5796 or firstname.lastname@example.org.