The winter holidays are supposed to be a time of joy. For some of us, that expectation may not match our experience. Typically in our society, for those of us who celebrate the holiday season, the winter holidays are spent with friends and family, engaging in traditional activities, sharing certain meals with others, or giving and receiving gifts. We often see the picture-perfect image of holidays in ads, movies, TV shows, and other media.
But sometimes, our experience of the holidays may not match that cultural expectation, owing to stressors during the holidays such as estrangement from or conflict with friends and family, negative life events during holiday time or earlier in the year, or coping with mental health challenges in a time of celebration. In any event, it is important to remember to take care of yourself and your well-being during the holiday season. The following suggestions may be helpful to keep in mind.
Make Your Own Holidays
A common holiday angst experience I see is the discrepancy between cultural expectations of what the holidays should look like versus what they actually are. This discrepancy carries an implicit yet powerful impact on the psyche for the individual. For example, someone who is alone for the holidays may feel more loneliness or sadness because they don’t have a big family gathering or parties to attend. That doesn’t mean such a person can’t have a fulfilling holiday experience by creating their own traditions or activities.
Try to make your holiday experiences more relevant, enjoyable and your own by incorporating your unique spin on them. For example, volunteering at a shelter rather than staying home alone that day. Or perhaps the holiday can be celebrated on a different day rather than the typical one if friends or family cannot meet then. Try not to let cultural should–expectations define your holiday if that is not your experience or preference. Instead, focus on activities that are in line with your personal values or on things that give you a sense of meaning or fulfillment.
Take Time for Relaxation and Enjoyment
Sometimes, the holidays can seem more like a chore than a celebration. Cleaning, cooking, shopping…the list goes on! If you find yourself more exhausted or stressed from holiday preparations, try incorporating time in your schedule for your own relaxation and enjoyment. Any little bit can help. Treat yourself to that massage you’ve been putting off. Start reading that book you wanted to read, if only for 15-30 minutes.
Life can be full of obligations and responsibilities, and it is easy to burn out if you feel like you cannot rejuvenate or do the things you really enjoy. Remember: It is not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact, it is necessary and vital to your mental and physical health to do so.
Remember: Only You Can Control You
While loneliness can spike during the winter holiday season, the people with whom we share them can trigger just as much stress. Be they political differences or old family resentments that fuel a feud during the holidays, keep in mind that you can control your response to those individuals, but you cannot control other people, how they think, feel, or behave. Sometimes, radical acceptance is called for, which is different than resignation or giving-up. Acceptance can be the best antidote to people who push your buttons. Behaving in the most effective ways you can may not change the other person’s response, but it may be less distressing to you to accept other people as they are. It is often better to accept rather than try to change something that cannot be changed. Psychology Today has some excellent articles by Karyn Hall, Ph.D. on radical acceptance that may prove helpful.
Sometimes the winter holiday season can lose its sense of meaning and enjoyment in the midst of festive trappings, cultural expectations, and idyllic media portrayals, let alone losing the time and effort spent on meeting but not achieving those expectations. Whether these expectations are your own or those of your family or friends……whether you find yourself discouraged, lonely, or distressed…..take a moment to remind yourself about what is important to you during the holidays. Try to incorporate those important things into your celebration as much as possible. Ultimately, the connection we have to others, the gratitude we have for blessings in our lives, and other facets that give us meaning and fulfillment are more important than the perfect Christmas tree or the perfect latkes.
Regardless of if you celebrate any of the winter holidays, I, and all at Therapy Changes, wish you a happy, healthy winter season, and a great next year ahead.