Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
During the holidays, we are surrounded by symbols of joys of the season. Colored lights, familiar music, get-togethers with coworkers, family, friends.
As a mental health professional, I can describe the overlying theme of the holidays with one word: expectations. Expectations around giving, receiving, participating, hosting. And the biggest expectation of all: the expectation of being happy.
When things aren't perfect
Sometimes the holiday season can be anything but happy. Family issues can pop up that cast a shadow over the festivities. Memories of holidays past, and people you shared them with who are no longer in your life, can be painful. All those events you are obligated to attend can be exhausting. On the other hand, not having any plans, or at least not having the plans you hoped for, can make the holidays feel like a time to get through and get past.
Living with a chronic condition can also add some blueness to your holidays. Like when you don’t quite feel up to participating at the level of the people around you. Or have to limit what you eat. Or struggle with your emotions when you find yourself comparing how you feel now to how you felt in the past.
If you’re feeling the joy of the season, that’s great. But if you’re feeling the holiday blues, you’re sure not alone.
Here are some ideas for coping with those blues:
Set limits. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations, take a step back and consider where you want to place your energy and where you don’t. That might mean saying no to attending an event or get-together. Or buying food to bring instead of cooking. Maybe putting in an appearance and then retreating to the sanctuary of your home. Honor your own limits. No need to ice your holiday cake with guilt.
Do something that’s just for you. What’s special for you about the holiday season? Anything you especially enjoy doing this time of the year? While you’re being a good sport and participating in the activities that are important to family and friends, make some time to squeeze in something that has personal meaning. Like a favorite holiday movie, or a walk or drive to look at the decorations.
Spend time with the people who are important to you. If you’re being pulled in all kinds of directions over the holidays, you may find it difficult to arrange time to see everybody on your list. As a result, you may not quite get around to connecting with a high school classmate, a former coworker, an elderly aunt who can’t come to family events. Don’t neglect making time to experience the joy of being with people who have played an important role in your life.
Make your own wellness a priority. All that holiday eating, drinking, and sitting can have a negative impact on your emotional health. So go back to setting limits. Before you attend an event, decide what you will and won’t eat and drink, and what you need to avoid to feel your best. And make sure you’re getting some active movement in every day. You’ll feel better physically and emotionally, and you’ll feel better about yourself.
Expectations. Sure, that’s a watchword for the holidays. Here’s another one: balance. Yes, this is a time to give. But keep your own needs and priorities at the front of your mind during the days ahead. Embrace what makes you joyful and you’ll make everybody around you that much more joyful as well. Happiness is a boomerang.
We’d love to hear what helps you cope with holiday challenges. Share your best tip with our community by adding a comment below.