Coping with the Holiday Season When You’re Feeling Down
Holiday parties every weekend, traveling long distances, decorating your home. Christmas lists from the kids to Santa, Hanukkah presents for eight nights, and extra time with extended family. Colder, winter weather (well, as cold as it can get in Southern California!) and endless sweet treats when we’re trying to follow a healthier eating plan.
That’s right. The holiday season is here!
It’s no secret that this time of year can usher in tremendous joy and celebration. For many of us, this is a wonderful time to get together with family and friends from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
And depending on your current life circumstances, this can also be a time of pain. Sometimes the pain has to do with the stress of shopping or financial concerns. Family conflicts may become more intense, breakups are more common, and some people experience general sadness around this time of the year just because of the overcast skies. We call these “triggers” and they can happen to any of us.
I want to talk to you about some of the more common triggers and offer some tips to help you cope if, for any reason, you are feeling additional stress and anxiety this holiday season.
All year you’ve been reminding your kids to be good so they stay on Santa’s “nice list.” You may be feeling the pressure for them to have to have the newest, nicest, name brand so they can keep up with their friends.
And perhaps you have recently started dating someone new and you want to impress them with a great gift. Or, maybe you’ve been with your partner for a while and you want to show them that your heart is still full of love for them.
And you feel like it’s your responsibility to get Mom and Dad a nice present to show your appreciation.
You’ve been invited to six holiday parties, all with gift exchanges and you decided to throw your own party requiring decorations and a fancy venue.
There are so many reasons that people go overboard and over budget during the holidays. No matter which way you slice it, the end of the year is one expensive pie!
In fact, a study by the American Research Group shows that the average person in the United States spent about $882.00 on gifts in 2015 which is steadily increasing year over year. That’s just about gifts. So, if you’re traveling for the holidays or hosting an event, that number skyrockets.
It’s important to budget for these things throughout the year, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Keep in mind that gifts don’t have to have monetary value to be special to the recipient. Being able to have an open conversation with your partner about finances and agree on a budget is one of the most important building blocks in the foundation of a strong relationship.
Long term, that Fendi handbag or Chanel earrings are not an investment in your relationship. Having savings in the bank in case of emergencies is an investment in your long-term financial security.
TIP: Ideally, you will have planned ahead and have figured out and agreed to some type of budget prior to the holidays. If you haven’t had that conversation, and unless there is a critical financial emergency – the type that could drastically change your life if you don’t take immediate action – I then highly recommend couples table any potentially high-conflict discussions about money until after the holidays.
We hope that any time with family is a welcome event, but the reality, even in the best of families, there can be some sort of drama or dysfunction. For some, it’s often but not always, a quiet dysfunction, literally. If you’re like many families, you don’t talk about the elephant in the room, you stuff feelings and just get through the days.
Maybe you never felt like you fit in with your family and so this forced bonding feels unnatural and leads to that feeling of loneliness in a room full of people. Maybe you’re concerned about the impending conversation about politics at the dinner table. For others, having a huge family gathering and mixing all the personalities together turns into a circus.
Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, it’s important to set boundaries for yourself BEFORE you get to the holiday feast. Are there some relatives you really can’t handle? Are there some you can tolerate and bite your tongue for a few hours? How long are you able to stay?
Another family time issue to address is how many families are there to visit? Are your parents divorced or married? Are you in a serious relationship and attending holiday events together? Will you and your partner create your own traditions and how will your extended families be involved in that? These are things you should discuss and address before the day of the event so there is an agreed-upon plan in place.
TIP: Try to set aside your differences with one or more family members, if you can. If not, you certainly aren’t alone. Not everyone comes from a Norman Rockwell family.
If one or more members of your family are highly toxic, remember that you get to set boundaries. In some cases, the healthiest thing may be to limit your contact or even stop any contact with someone who seems to go out of their way to hurt people. You get to say “No.” Literally, you don’t have to take any abuse or even the threat of abuse, for the sake of “family unity.”
Anniversary Reactions or a Recent Loss
For some people, this time of the year can be joyous and sad at the same time. The mother of a friend of ours died two days before Christmas several years ago. Our friend still looks forward to celebrating the holidays but, understandably, she now views this time of the year as somewhat bittersweet.
For some, this may be the first holiday season after a separation or a divorce. Perhaps one of your adult children is living out of state or in a foreign country and now, for the first time, can’t make it home to celebrate.
TIP: There are any number of things that you can do that may be helpful. If someone dear to you has passed away, consider donating to a charity in their name. If you feel lonely, reach out to trusted family members and friends. Staying home feeling alone and sad isn’t the best way to cope with your loss. Having said that, do make some time for yourself where you don’t have to respond to the needs of others. Try to find some balance as best you can.
For a variety of reasons, there are couples that historically break up around this time of year.
TIP: It’s important to understand that grieving is part of any loss. Be patient with yourself. You may not get over this overnight. Give yourself whatever amount of time you need to heal. If things aren’t getting better, reach out to a counselor who can help you navigate through all of this.
Wait, did he just say weather? Really?
Yes, you read that correctly. I want to talk about something that affects over 10 million Americans every year, it’s called Seasonal Affect Disorder, or SAD for short. It’s described by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons… symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, zapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.”
As if the stress and anxiety that comes with navigating finances and family at this time of year wasn’t enough, add seasonal depression to the mix. Irritability, trouble focusing, trouble sleeping, low energy and hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain may also be issues troubling you this time of year.
These are all signs of depression and while depression can be experienced at any time of year, many people feel these effects more intensely during the gloomy, dark winter months. This is because with less sunlight our bodies experience reduced serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) and melatonin (affects sleep patterns and mood) levels.
It’s normal to have days here and there where you’re exhausted, but if you feel unmotivated and sluggish for days at a time and perhaps have trouble remembering the last time you enjoyed a hobby, talk to your physician or a therapist who is trained to help people feeling just like you.
Tip: If you traditionally feel sad at this time of the year, literally force yourself to get out and spend time with people who don’t need you to pretend that you’re having a great time when you’re not. People who can listen and accept where you are in this moment could be the best holiday present you need.
And please remember this, if the holidays are a significant and repeating trigger for you, help is available. Millions of people have very similar experiences this time of the year.
I could go on for hours, days even, on how the holidays can affect us and what we can do to combat it because no two people experience this time of year exactly the same. I’d love to connect with you on a personal basis and discuss your questions and any concerns you may have about the upcoming holiday season. Please contact me and let’s see how we can help you through all of this.