The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, but we all know the stress that can come along with finding the right gifts, hosting gatherings, managing blended families that include significant others, spouses, ex-spouses, in-laws and maybe even former in-laws that are, after all, grandparents, and trying to please everyone which is virtually impossible.
Add to all that the emotionally charged memories this time of year brings when important people with whom we used to share holidays are no longer with us. Financial concerns can become more prominent too when we want the holiday gifts and celebrations to meet expectations. And finally the shorter days and less daylight have an adverse effect on many people. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can experience some extreme symptoms. Even for people who don’t suffer from clinical depression, this time of year can be very difficult (read more about Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal from Healthline).
I have been accused at times of not liking the holidays. That is not really accurate. I learned years ago how to navigate the last six weeks of the year in the least stressful way possible. Of course that was many years before losing my parents and aunt and uncle with whom I shared holidays all of my life. That was before my cancer diagnosis (read more about cancer & depression) which made me appreciate my own mortality, and my husband’s suicide that ended holiday celebrations as I had known them for over 20 years. And still, I found ways to make the most of the holidays. Although, admittedly I have my moments of despair.
I really try. I start listening to Christmas music when I’m in the car by myself as soon as SiriusXM Holly goes live. I put up the decorations Thanksgiving weekend and even gave in last year when my daughter wanted them up earlier. I attend parties and I’ve throw parties. What I’ve also done for many of the Christmases since my husband died is go away for the week that encompasses Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and his birthday. That’s what worked for us. Being in Chicago is now a permanent escape of sorts, although the holidays can still be difficult emotionally.
The one gift all of this has brought me is a new sense of empathy. While I can at times wallow in the holidays can be difficult self-pity, I can also appreciate that everyone is also dealing with a whole myriad of things that can make the holidays challenging. For people with clinical depression, this extremely difficult month can be even more arduous. If you know anyone who suffers from depression or anxiety or may be grieving the loss of a loved one this holiday season, reach out. Don’t let people be lonely. Look for ways to share the holidays in a way that is comfortable for them.
If you are dealing with grief and loss this holiday season, read my 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss. If you are dealing with someone close to you that may seem like your own Grinch, pleased don’t judge. They may be fighting an internal battle of which you are not aware. Instead, I offer you this:
1. Recognize that for some, the holidays can be extremely difficult, and bring on enormous sadness.
2. Understand these feelings are real and like depression at any time of the year, can’t be willed away.
3. Help your friends and loved ones avoid social isolation. If big celebrations are overwhelming for them, find other smaller ways you can socialize and stay connected.
4. Don’t pressure them to do things they find uncomfortable, but do encourage self-care (meditation, massage, exercise) to cope with stress, and to seek professional assistance (therapist, doctor) if needed. And of course, if someone is suicidal (there’s no harm in asking them if they are!) contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or call 9-1-1. Do not leave them alone.
5. Be present for them, let them talk. Don’t feel you need to solve their problems (you can’t); just listen, and make sure they know you care.
Here’s to making the best of the holiday season for everyone including the Grinch!