I have a difficult time with the holidays. I’ve never been able to enjoy them to the levels I see at the mall or on TV. My world just doesn’t revolve around perfection… I accept it because I know spring is on its way and no one expects anything from me during that glorious time of year. The stress of December is difficult for many people, and I think there are a lot of reasons for it. While getting a haircut today, I read an article by Lara Rutherford-Morrison in Lifestyle Magazine that sorta put a face on holiday gloom. I thought I’d mention some of it on my blog.
If you’re looking ahead to the approaching holidays and feeling more dread than cheer, you may find yourself wondering, “What causes the holiday blues? Why am I feeling more ‘Bah humbug!’ than ‘Holly jolly’?” In the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, everything from holiday TV specials to music to advertisements is telling us to be happy; one holiday classic insists “It’s the most wonderful time of the year… It’s the hap-happiest season of all!” But for many, this demand to be joyful only emphasizes the depression and anxiety that frequently crops up this time of year. In addition to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability, people with the “holiday blues” can experience a number of physical symptoms, including headaches, stomach problems, and sleeplessness.
The holidays can trigger depression for a number of reasons. It’s important to note, however, that some people’s depression during the winter has nothing to do with the holidays, but rather with the season itself. According to American Family Physician, about five percent of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the autumn and winter, a condition that can cause fatigue and feelings of depression. Women, young people, and those with a history of depression are most at risk for SAD, and living far away from the equator (and therefore having less light in the winter) is a factor, too. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your doctor; light therapy can be a simple, effective treatment for the disorder.
Although dark skies can contribute to the holiday blues, there are a variety of other factors that can make your holidays less than merry:
Perhaps the biggest catalyst for the winter blues is simply the monumental amount of pressure that we tend to put on ourselves to have perfect, cookie cutter holidays. Throughout the season, the media bombards us with images of perfect family gatherings, free of conflict; people exchanging profoundly meaningful gifts that they’ll cherish forever; and everything that’s bad in the world melting away in under the awesome power of the “holiday spirit.”
I need to tell you the truth… it’s all bullshit! No matter how much people try to orchestrate holidays to look like Norman Rockwell paintings, the world will continue to be an imperfect place. By putting too much pressure on ourselves to have “perfect” holidays or to recreate the holidays of our childhoods, we set ourselves up to fail when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.
That isn’t to say that we should all just give up and expect the holidays to be awful, but it may be helpful to have more open, flexible ideas of what good holidays might look like. If, for example, you have a history of family conflict, maybe a good Christmas doesn’t mean having the whole family sitting in perfect harmony around a crackling fire. Maybe it means getting through the day with as little conflict as possible, and treating yourself to a separate celebration with friends or indulging yourself by relaxing with a book on your own. Allow your holidays to be their own thing, regardless of what you see on TV or in other people’s lives.
The holidays can be particularly difficult for people who are feeling lonely… because they can’t be with their families, because of a breakup, because of the loss of a loved one, or any other reason that they may feel isolated or alone. If you can, seek out opportunities to be with others, like going to a friend’s house for Christmas or participating in a community event. I want to encourage people to be active, rather than passive, when it comes to loneliness during the holidays. If you’re going to be alone, make a plan… when you feel in control of your experience, that alone makes you feel better. That may mean that you volunteer, go on vacation, or simply decide to stay home and cook a feast for yourself. The key is that you decide what you’re going to do.
If you decide to do absolutely nothing…. Enjoy every minute of it!