How to fight the holiday blues
Like an irregular period, sometimes the holidays can make you feel just a bit off.
While they are deemed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” that is not necessarily true for everyone for a variety of reasons. You could be reeling from the loss of a loved one and their absence during yearly traditions brings back a slew of hard emotions. You could be dealing with the loss of a job and feeling stressed about how you're going to complete your shopping list. You could be recovering from an eating disorder, and the lack of routine makes you nervous about sticking to your new diet. You could be used to a lot of alone time after the year(s) of pandemic-ing and have a hard time adjusting to so much together time.
You could be dealing with infertility or a breakup and the questions about why you’re not carrying a child or flaunting a big ol’ diamond ring could trigger you all over again.
It’s safe to assume that you’re dealing with something. So, you should also assume the person sitting to your left and to your right at the dinner table is dealing with something, too.
First of all, take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’re going to show up as best as you can this holiday season, and that you’re going to appreciate how your friends and family members show up and assume that it’s the best they can, too.
While there’s power in these affirmations, there’s also some tips and tricks to help you manage and navigate your expectations, feelings and stress during this holiday season.
Before the holidays:
My mom calls the anxiety that people experience before an event the “pre-work.” Some people (me) imagine unseemly and negative outcomes way before they even happen in the attempts to mitigate these events. Sometimes, you need to do the pre-work to get the stress out of your system so you can do your best to enjoy whatever event and whatever guests are at that aforementioned event.
Before the holidays, to lessen some of the stress and help you enjoy your time as much as you can, you can:
- Get organized: Make a list of the things you need to do, buy or make. Writing down your tasks can make them feel more tangible, and therefore, more reasonable to complete.
- Delegate: If you’re hosting a big event, ask for help. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.
- Define your limits and boundaries: It’s okay to say no to things. Figure out what you need to do to make sure you’re feeling your best during the holidays. That might mean saying no to another weekday party or to a second plate of your grandpa’s homemade pie. The privilege of being part of a family sometimes can feel like it creeps up on your advocacy and autonomy. Be clear, direct and kind about what you need, and what you cannot do.
- Meditate and set intentions: Imagine yourself in certain scenarios, like your uncle making the same unfunny joke or your cousin softly denying climate change. Imagine how you’ll feel, and try to plan strategies, such as subtle deep breathing, a shift in conversation topics, or an excuse to engage with the people on the other side of the room. If you can tackle these annoyances in an imaginary way, you’ll be better equipped once they actually arise.
- Set up external supports: Maybe this is a TV show you love, or a friend you can call to exchange affirmations (Ex: “Just because my younger sister is married doesn’t mean I’m going to die alone,” “Aunt Susie’s insidious ability to weave her new diet into every conversation including, but not limited to, musings on serious political events is not a comment on my weight,” “It’s okay that I got my nephew the same present his babysitter bought for him, this does not make me an idiot.”) Make sure you have something accessible that you know makes you feel better.
- Make a budget: And stick to it.
During the Holiday
The halls have been decked, it is time to commence being jolly! Here’s a few things you can do to get through some of the rougher moments, and enjoy the merriment of being together when you can.
- Take breaks: It’s okay to need a break! If someone needs to run to the store to grab more full fat milk for the eggnog - volunteer for the journey and listen to a calming song while on the cold, dark roads.
- Express how you’re actually feeling: Not all conflict is bad. If you feel you have the emotional bandwidth, engage with your relatives and friends on some of their opinions in an honest and open way. You can understand where they’re coming from, and hopefully they can do the same. While our country is in a hyperpolarized state, we can still try to engage with our family members we may not see eye to eye with with kindness, if it doesn't cause too much mental detriment to you.
- Have a routine: Carve out some time where you can focus on your self care activities, be that reading in silence by the fire or bundling up and going for a walk. This is the same with diet and alcohol intake. If you’re feeling a bit out of control, resort to patterns and activities that you know serve you the other 51 weeks of the year.
- Get support: Holidays can sometimes trigger depression, especially if you’re experiencing a loss or navigating a change or transition in your life. Seek mental health support and contact a doctor or counselor if you’re feeling sadder than expected.
With the wild ways of the world, it’s normal to feel stressed about the impending holiday season. Remember you cannot control other people, but you can control your reaction to other people.
And if all else fails, wrap yourself in a weighted blanket and watch Elf until Buddy helps you get back into the spirit of things.