I have been providing individual therapy for about five years now, and over the years I’ve noticed a trend. As we begin to approach the holidays, there is an increase in depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even suicide. In fact, some clients specifically ask for sessions during or even on the holidays.
Unfortunately, insurances do not pay me time and a half to be in the office during Thanksgiving.
So, why are the holidays so stressful?
What traditions as a society have we implemented to be a part of our holidays? Holiday movies typically feature a perfectly happy family opening fabulous gifts. As sad as some people might think this is… there is a large number of people who are alone and do not interact with any family on a regular basis.
Where do you think the term “Friendsgiving” came from? It is very hard to be able to enjoy a day that was made to spend time with family if you do not have a family. Or rather, you’d prefer to spend a holiday with your chosen family instead.
I encourage clients to challenge the meaning of family and make their own family and traditions. It doesn’t always have to be like Kevin’s family in Home Alone—because honestly, how many people can afford a trip for 14 to Paris over Christmas vacation?!
You also do not have to buy the most extravagant gifts—you just have to be at peace and happy. And peace and happiness are subjective and different for everybody. You just have to find what yours is.
I cannot help but look back on one of Dicaprio’s best movies, Catch Me If You Can. DiCaprio’s character would phone Tom Hanks—the detective assigned to his case—every Christmas, because he had “no one else to call.”
So, why do the holidays make us feel sad and vulnerable?
“Peace and happiness are subjective and different for everybody. You just have to find what yours is.”
When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? Hopefully, it’s happy thoughts, like family, hot chocolate, presents and maybe even some snow if you live in the north. If the holidays always make you feel negative, however, it might be time to re-evaluate your traditions.
As humans, we tend to classically condition ourselves to associate things. If you are constantly feeling negative about the holidays, you will only continue to feel this way if you don’t do anything to change it. Without change, our mind will end up making a strong connection and every time you see a holiday decoration your brain will default to sad thoughts.
Don’t do this to yourself. The holidays do not always have to be a memory of what “used to be,” or of what “should be.” If you don’t enjoy a day off, then you should challenge yourself to learn how to enjoy a day off. Set yourself up with your own new traditions of what works for you.
As a society, we tend to make everything about “stuff.”
We have become extremely extra the last couple of years, from extravagant gender reveal parties to even competitions of prom-posals. Let’s not get started with the holidays and how our expectations of what it should have done to us as human beings.
Let’s bring things back to basics! Simplify your holidays to help you combat stress during the holidays with these tips:
1. Volunteer your time.
The holidays are a great time to volunteer your time, and most places are in need of the extra help too!
How nice would it be to spend Christmas at an animal shelter helping homeless dogs and cats their fur-ever home? Or perhaps spending time with elderly at a nursing home? Even making homemade Christmas cards or baked goods at home to make others smile can easily make the holidays much more enjoyable.
2. Be accepting of others.
The fact of the matter is, the holidays might require us to spend time with family members that we don’t like. We might have to host the impossible “perfect” dinner. We might even have to travel and stand in long lines and argue about a delay in flights. It all becomes too much.
When did we forget that holidays are about what makes us happy with our loved ones?
It does not have to be a show over who bought the best gifts and who had “too much to drink” while standing in your aunt’s living room in a nice outfit being asked once again…“How is work going?” Or what if you are new to a relationship and have to meet your new in-laws. Here come the looks and stares and the constant questions of “what do you do for a living?” Why does it have to be this way? It is good to always remember that people will act whatever way they want and we cannot change that. What we can change is the way we respond.
“When did we forget that holidays are about what makes us happy with our loved ones?”
After all, are you really going to give that much power to a comment made over dinner about how you’re still single? Keep in mind. The brain connections are being made. Brush off the negativity and use this time to allow nothing but peace in your heart.
3. Stick to a budget.
Despite the high amounts of money we are pressured to spend during the holidays, you should not have to drown yourself in credit card debt. Remember: no gift is worth the amount of stress you will endure the following months.
Sometimes it’s more about the effort than the gift. Be different. Buy scratch-offs, bake homemade goods, make your own gifts—you can easily through together a gift basket with items from the dollar rack at Target.
And if you’re invited to numerous ugly sweater parties, go to the thrift store. Honestly, who will know that the one of a kind sweater was only $3.99? Remember not to make the holidays about money.
4. Don’t give up on your healthy habits.
The holidays encourage us to indulge and why not? It’s important to remember that occasional indulgences are okay, but don’t spend two weeks eating cake and hate yourself in January when nothing fits. The holidays should be celebrated because they only come around once a year. However, don’t do anything that will make you hate yourself later. Be mindful that you can enjoy sweets and sleep in during any other time of the year as well.
“The holidays should be celebrated because they only come around once a year.”
Whatever holiday you celebrate can be the happiest time of the year if you choose to want it that way. Tap into your internal locus of control. Keep in mind that if you’re dragging your children to yet again another family gathering far away that results in misery, then maybe it is time to change things up.
You can always change the traditions and maybe eat frozen pizza while watching movies, opening gifts and playing board games. Who said it has to be the way your Aunt Gertrude demanded it to be 50 years ago? Times change! Just focus on finding a daily routine and traditions that make you genuinely happy this holiday season.