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Holiday Blues: Why They Exist and How to Overcome Them

There is a long list of reasons why holidays might not be a person's happiest time of year. Unfortunately, for many people holidays are a basket of triggers, particularly due to the increased social, financial, and emotional expectations that come with the season. In all the holiday songs, decorations, movies, and cards, holidays seem to be bursting with a sense of joy, giving, and togetherness. While these seem like wonderful concepts to embrace and enjoy, they can actually press on deep pain and discomfort for many people. Here are some common reasons someone might seem absent of the holiday spirit:

  1. Holidays can be a bit of a performance -- Whether you're entertaining, being entertained, or participating in a religious aspect of the holiday, you're on display in front of others. This is particularly difficult for those who experience social anxiety or are introverted, as the expectation to be social and bask in the company of others for the sake of togetherness can easily result in the person feeling judged, awkward, or drained.

  2. Holidays can put focus on resources, the things we want and might not be able to have, leading to feeling fake -- Many holidays celebrate generosity, the spirit of giving, and gratitude. However, making a list of things you want, or want to give, can be quite frustrating and saddening when you don't have the means to get them. For such individuals, this experience can result in the spirit of generosity being overpowered by the sense that holidays are just a time for unnecessary overindulgence driven by business propagandas wanting to rake in more money. The expectation to give and be cheery can also lead to a filmy aftertaste of fakeness instead of a glowing wholesomeness that is expected to surround holidays.

  3. Holidays can force the concept of eating, drinking, and making merry -- This might seem like a good time for many people, but can be extremely stressful and anxiety inducing for others. For those with eating disorders, body image issues, or alcohol addictions, being surrounded by the rich foods and drinks that accompany holidays is highly distressing, and can result in feeling guilt, shame, regret, or even upend the individual's healing process.

  4. Holidays can highlight lack and loss -- Though the warmth of family and coziness of home are beautiful concepts, not everyone has access to them. Holidays, despite their intended messages of hope and joy, can bring all the things people are missing into stark perspective. This is an unfortunate and painful reality for people who might not have a good relationship with their family, might be grieving the loss of loved ones, or might not have access to a home that provides them with physical and emotional safety.

While it is completely valid for people with these negative experiences to find holidays less than exciting, there are ways they can improve their overall experience and wellbeing.

  1. Identify the actual trigger -- Is it the feeling of awkwardness around others and their uncomfortable questions? Is it your disappointment and resentment towards wanting things that are beyond your means? The feeling of overwhelm from the seemingly oppressive cheeriness? Maybe the anxiety from being expected to eat and drink with others? Or is it the reminder of the state of your relationships and home life?

  2. Get support -- The feelings are valid and understandable. Give yourself the grace and permission to reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or mental health professional so they can help support you as you grapple with your trigger.

  3. Stay authentic to you -- It's important to set boundaries towards yourself and others, and maintain them. What others want due to social norms or expectations is less important than what you need that helps keep your mental and physical well-being intact. Your distress will reduce significantly if you stop forcing yourself to go places, talk to people, or do things that are painful or anxiety inducing for you. Allow yourself to accept how you feel without guilt or shame, because your experience is real.

  4. Set up self care and new traditions -- If holidays are rough for you, be sure to be extra attentive to the kindness and care you're showing to yourself. Schedule time to decompress away from the holiday extravagance of the world around you. This might also mean taking time to create new traditions for yourself that allow you to create happier memories and connections during an otherwise stressful season.

  5. Remember it's temporary -- As distressing as holidays can be, it's important to remember they only take up a few weeks of the year. They'll be over soon!

Yes, some people do seem very Scrooge-like during the holidays, but their reasons are often valid, and steeped in pain and discomfort. However, with some awareness building, support, kindness to themselves, and small shifts in perspective, they'll be able to cruise through the holidays on their own merry boat.

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