The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, with half of us feeling some stress and fatigue if not mild depression. The holiday blues are felt by people as a result of the holiday season. Yet, some people are entering the holiday season already feeling stressed, anxious, sad, grieving, depressed, etc. How do I enjoy the holidays while helping people I know to cope with their holiday blues?
“If one were to devise an experimental set of circumstances which would test the integrity of an individual’s mood control, one would invent the year-end holiday season.” Jonathan Himmelhoch, Psychiatrist, Western Psychiatric Institute, and Clinic
The holiday blues are real, and according to at least one study, about half of us experience the holiday blues (the survey reached 786 adults, 18 years or older Fall of 2006). But some people suffer the holiday blues because they entered the holiday season already feeling sad, depressed, anxious, etc. The seemingly joyous time of the year enhances their depression and anxiety.
I don’t think there is any other time of the year, which evokes such strong emotions as does this time of the year. For some of us, we are excited, joyous, filled with wonder and anticipation! We visit family and friends, host parties and gatherings, spreading joy everywhere we go! But yet some of us feel quite the opposite this time of the year. I think of those who recently lost a loved one, suffering from physical or mental health issues, separated from loved ones, and even estranged from the family. There are those whose past experience of the holidays wasn’t pleasant, and those who feel trapped in life situations.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While these song lyrics may be accurate for some, they’re not necessarily right for everyone. I’m not writing this to bring down the mood, but what I am saying is that we need to be mindful of people around us who may be suffering while we celebrate. Some of my current clients are dreading these next few weeks, while other clients are looking forward to a new beginning!
Regardless of how we may feel about the holidays themselves, this time of the year finds many of us feeling the burden for perfection. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt the best of us. While we still have our day-to-day tasks to complete, we must also decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations, especially if we feel obligated, can cause stress and anxiety even in those who enjoy this time of the year. Now imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are merely trying to cope with life, let alone the added expectation of the season.
This time of the year, we tend to focus more of our attention on helping others and on giving back. Therefore, what can we do to either help or give to someone who is suffering during this holiday season?
- Create an awareness within yourself and your children that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to place a burden on us, but as a recognition for the reality of others.
- Create an environment where all people feel open to sharing their feelings honestly. While attending or planning, parties and gatherings don’t encourage everyone to participate, be respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities that would allow a person to participate in the degree in which they feel comfortable.
- Be mindful that your expectations of what makes up a holiday celebration may not be the expectations of others. Allow yourself the flexibility to be open to the traditions of others as well as to how others may be feeling. For example, if you are organizing the family dinner, take into account any family members who have had a challenging year. Allow them space or the time to speak, or not speak, if they wish. Be aware that their showing up may have been a difficult task in and of itself.
- If you know someone struggling to cope with a mental illness, or emotionally struggling, be a supportive friend. Allow time in your holiday schedule to be present to them, even if words aren’t spoken. Never underestimate the positive effect and healing quality of presence. If possible and appropriate, encourage them to join you at small gatherings and surround them with people who have their best interests at heart. Isolation, especially during the holidays, is not healthy.
- Encourage them to do activities focused on taking care of themselves and their emotional health, regardless of the expectations placed upon them by themselves or others. Help them to understand that It doesn’t make you a selfish person when you prioritize yourself, it is actually essential toward your well-being.
- Take time from the busyness of this season to be an active listener to those who wish to share their feelings. Encouraging and allowing others to share how they feel may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. If they are reluctant to share, lovingly help them by letting them know that you will listen without judgment regardless of what they wish to talk about and share.
During this holiday season, as many of us join together with our families and friends, let’s be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let’s 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.