To quote a popular song of the season: “It's the most wonderful time of the year!” While this sentiment may be true for many of us, it is not necessarily the shared sentiment of everyone. As the end of the year mark's a time for celebrations, holidays, and traditions which bring together families and spark feelings of joy, there are those whose memories and sentiments of this time of the year are quite different from customarily expected.
There are those who suffer from mental illness or whose memories of the holiday season are not of pleasant times. It is unfortunate that many of us forget that not everyone perceives this time of the year in the same way that we do. I'm not writing this to chastise anyone or to bring down the mood the season. What I am saying is that we need to be mindful of those around us who may be suffering while we celebrate.
Many of us feel the burden of unreasonable expectations for perfection this time of the year. While we still have our day-to-day tasks to do we must also decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations can cause stress and anxiety even in those who are enjoying this time of the year. Imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are simply trying to cope with life let alone the added expectation of the season.
What can we do to help?
- Create an awareness within yourself and teach your children to understand that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to place a burden on ourselves, rather as a recognition of the reality of others.
- Create an environment where people feel open to honestly share their feelings. At parties or gatherings encourage everyone to participate, while being respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities which would allow for a person to participate to the degree in which they feel comfortable.
- Be mindful that your expectations about what makes up a traditional celebration may not be the same expectations of others. Allow yourself the flexibility to be open to the traditions of others and to how others may be feeling. For example, if you are organising the family dinner, take into account any family members who have had a difficult year. Allow them the space or the time to speak if they wish. Be aware that their showing up may have been a difficult task in and of itself.
- If you know of someone who does suffer from a mental illness or is finding this time of the year to be emotionally difficult, be a supportive friend. Allow yourself to be present to them even if words aren't spoken. Encourage them to join you at small gatherings and surround them with people who have their best interests at heart.
- Be supportive of those whom you know are suffering this time of the year by encouraging them to be selfish. Selfish in the sense that they need to do things to take care of themselves regardless of the expectations placed upon them. It doesn't make you a bad person to prioritize yourself, it is actually essential to your well-being to do so.
- Take time from the busyness of this season to be an effective listener to those who are in need of sharing their feelings. Encouraging and allowing those who are suffering to share how they feel can be the most helpful thing you can do for them. Silence is not good for someone who is suffering emotionally this time of the year, even if they feel it is better for them not to speak. Lovingly encourage them to share by letting them know that you will listen without judgement regardless of what they share.
During this holiday season as we join together with our families and friends let us be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let us not forget those who are emotionally suffering at this time of the year. Being respectful, understanding, and lovingly present is the best holiday gift a person can receive.