People can dread the holiday season for a number of reasons, both simple and complicated. And this year… it’s the end of an extremely complicated year. So we all need to breathe.. 

What do you dread feeling or experiencing?

If it’s loss..

You might have had losses or trials in your life that overwhelm  and eclipse any attempts to celebrate; you remember past holiday seasons with tears in your eyes rather than joy in your heart. You’re not sure how you’re going to get to January and simply wish you could sleep until then. 

This can be true for many of us experiencing this year of COVID; whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of income, the loss of everyday normalcy the past months, the loss of being able to make plans due to the continued uncertainty, or the loss of having loved ones with you this holiday season…you might be dreading these holidays more than ever.

If it’s perfectionism…

You may be in the habit of putting excessively high demands on yourself. And in non-Covid years, you had to please everyone. Aunt Molly was eating only Keto. Son Joey, an animal rights advocate and fairly new vegan, won’t touch the duck, the turkey or the sausage-laced stuffing. And Uncle Simon will get a little tipsy if dinner isn’t served on time. Lots of p-r-e-s-s-u-r-e to please. 

This isn’t lessened this year due to COVID; in fact, you may feel even more pressure to “make up” for the deficits COVID has brought to your family. You know your children are disappointed their cousins won’t be coming over, so you’ve planned extra fun-filled family nights of games and movies to keep them entertained. Your relatives that won’t be visiting? You’re sending care packages of homemade goodies all over the country, making phone calls to check on everyone, and purchasing more elaborate gifts than normal.

If it’s family conflict or estrangement…

You could have strained relationships with your family, so the thought of seeing them could range anywhere from impossible to irritating to uncomfortable. You’re already trying to avoid the normal questions of non-COVID years, “Are you getting together with family this year?” This year the questions could be differently framed but exhausting nonetheless, “It must be so difficult for you to not be getting together with family like you usually do.”

Well, maybe not. Yet you can still grieve that your family doesn’t feel like “family.”

If it’s depression and stress…

There may be things going on in your life or your children’s that are just plain difficult. Sometimes you can be struggling with such shame or despair that it’s hard to be vulnerable and you don’t have the strength or desire to celebrate – even if that is via Zoom this year. 

If you’re in an insecure emotional space, not proud of or sure of where you are; you may feel as if all you want to do is hide.

If it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder…

To throw more fuel on the fire, many people, as the sun goes down more quickly and cold gloomy weather comes our way, experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is usually a mild or moderate despondency during the colder months that can be tough to deal with. After a summer potentially spent more secluded than any prior summer, these darker days may feel darker than ever.

If Your Holiday Seems More Like a “Hauliday”…

Here are some ideas to help.

Accept who and where you are in life.

Accept your vulnerabilities, your family situation, and where you are emotionally. And do only what you can. Rolls make a great dessert and easy tastes just as good as complicated.

Give yourself the gift of taking a smaller role in any festivities you might feel like attending, even if only by Zoom. Honor grief by participating in a “Blue Christmas” church service, or whatever your particular faith might offer. Plan a private ritual of some kind to recognize how you are feeling. You may think avoidance will help, and these pandemic days make avoidance easier than every for many. But it’s more helpful to honor your grief while also staying as connected with those who love you as you are, no matter how you are right now.

Respect your own boundaries and realize no one is abandoning you if their boundaries are different than yours.  

I’m hearing about families having lots of conflict over mask-wearing and what feels safe.  And that’s everyone’s right. But you don’t have to follow other’s rules; nor do they need to follow or agree with yours. You can so easily over-personalize what is the personal choice of someone you love. They love you as well, but their concern is unique to them, as yours is to you. 

Recite a mantra every day. Remind yourself what’s most important to you.

“I will get done today all that I am supposed to.”

“He would want me to enjoy what he loved so much. It’s okay if I cry.”

Hold onto this as you go through your days as a reminder that what you’re experiencing is temporary, and that you can get through it. Because you will. We all will.

Plan ahead of time how you will answer an unwanted question.

Think of the communication version of a bait and switch tactic; you nibble the bait, but then switch your answer to best serve your own comfort zone. But overall, know that you don’t have to answer questions you don’t want to – or are ready to. 

“Thanks so much for asking about Jenny – I’ll let her know you did.”

“It’s kind of you to ask about my job search, but today I’d love to just to concentrate on this yummy food!”

Don’t feel obligated to give out requested details; even if you know they’re asking out of genuine concern and not gossipy interest. You’re allowed to retain whatever privacy makes you comfortable.

Remember that Comparison Robs You of Joy.

Recognize that some people will put on a great show and everything will seem perfect. “Seem” is the important word there, because nobody’s life is perfect. Some folks need for others to think it is, which could reflect that the opposite is actually the truth.

I hope holidays are not a long haul, but days where you can breathe. Eat good food. Enjoy what you are able and be grateful for the things that you can. 

May you have a meaningful and enjoyable holiday season.



You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!

My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.

And there’s a new way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

This was originally published on November 22, 2015; updated on November 17, 2018 and again on December 12, 2020.

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