This time of year can bring up a lot of mixed emotions. It's a time of year for gatherings of family and friends, celebrations and reminiscing. There is the excitement and anxiety of planning for upcoming festivities, along with the hopes and disappointments that can often accompany family gatherings. If we have had traumatic childhoods, feelings of deep loss and sadness might interfere with our desire to be joyful during this season. All the pressure to feel happy can have the opposite impact and we might find ourselves with the holiday blues, sinking into clinical depression or relying on patterns of self-medication with alcohol to make ourselves feel better. Here are some tips on managing holiday blues.
1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. The pressure to "feel happy" during this time of year can lead us to hide our feelings when they don't match the picture on the holiday card. It's ok to feel whatever it is your feeling, in fact, it's healthy. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to start feeling better is to allow yourself to feel not so great. Feeling our negative emotions encourage us to reach out to others for support. Studies show that people who work on accepting their negative emotions also experience greater emotional intimacy in their relationships.
2. Give your wallet a break. One of the big pressures of the holiday season is to spend, spend, spend. The retail industry relies on the message that spending more will make us happier. Most of us know in our heads that this isn't true for long term happiness, but the allure of short term good feelings that come from spending money on ourselves and others becomes too tempting to turn down. You probably won't be surprised to learn that at least one study has shown a link between credit card debt and an increase in depressive symptoms. Practice setting a holiday budget that you can stick to and talk with you partner and family about your spending boundaries.
3. Give yourself a break. There is a lot of pressure this time of year to go to every party and see every distant relative. Give yourself permission to say no to some events. Conversely, those of us who are disconnected from our family or have trouble with intimate relationships may feel more lonely as we see others gathering together. Lowering your expectations for the holidays can help. Reaching out to a friend for a cup of coffee, or spending an afternoon volunteering with a local giving organization can be even more fulfilling than attending a large party.
4. Connect with those who love and support you. As mentioned in number one, acknowledging and expressing our negative emotions can bring us closer to the people who care about us. If you are in a relationship, now might be a good time to talk with your partner about the difficulties of holiday stress. If this type of communication is new for you, you might try some of these communication tips from the Gottman Institute, or you might want to think about couples therapy. If you're unpartnered you might try reaching out to a close friend or family member. If these don't feel like options, finding a therapist or support group that is a good match can be very helpful this time of year.
Remember, most of us experience the holiday blues at some point. Holiday stress is normal. Acknowledging our feelings, setting our limits and connecting with others can help support us through the holiday season. If things begin to feel hopeless, or if feelings of isolation or sadness become overwhelming, know that you're not alone and that there are people here to help. The Canvas Health Crisis Connection line is available 24 hours a day (612-379-6363) for support. Be good to yourself this holiday season.
-Kori Hennessy, MA