People can dread the holiday season for a number of both simple and complicated reasons.
If it’s loss..
You might have had losses or trials in your life that overwhelm any attempts to celebrate; you remember past holiday seasons with tears in your eyes. You’re not sure how you’re going to get to January and simply wish you could sleep til then.
If it’s perfectionism…
You might put many excessively high demands on yourself, buying gifts, cooking elegant food, decorating the house so that it’s completely Pinterest-worthy. The pressure you put on yourself is immense. You have a million details on your mind. Aunt Molly is now gluten-free and eating 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. You take it on yourself to make sure all are pleased.
If it’s family conflict…
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 exhausted, answering the normal questions — “Are you getting together with family this year?” You may have said you’d go but the dread you have is palpable. Or you may be estranged from family which can bring relief or sadness, or both.
If it’s depression and stress…
There may be things going on in your life or your children’s that you’d prefer not to talk about or have people figure out. Even if those people love you and mean well, sometimes you can be struggling with such shame or despair that it’s hard to be vulnerable. You’re not in a proud or secure emotional space, and you may feel as if all you want to do is hide. You may be suffering with another episode of depression or wave of panic. You may just have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and be trying out a new medication.
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.
If Your Holiday Seems More Like a “Hauliday”…
Here are some ideas to help.
Accept who you are and where you are in life.
Accept your weaknesses, your family situation, and where you are emotionally. If you don’t cook a lot, then your meal may not all come out at the same time. No problem. 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. Honor grief by going to 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. But what is probably more helpful is honoring your grief while also staying as connected with those who love you as you can.
Delegate tasks to lighten your own load and keep your guests occupied.
If you are worried that people might not get along or if you’re stressed about that many people being in your house, keeping people busy helps keep order in your home. Ask your sister to baste the turkey and make the gravy, have Uncle Jack take the kids to the neighborhood park, request for volunteers to set the table or set up the buffet.
I always had to pass out napkins at my grandmother’s, a task that I felt demeaned my true talents. But it probably kept me out of the kitchen and my grandmother’s hair, as I had to count them, fold them, etc.
Recite a mantra every day. Remind yourself of what’s most important to you.
“It’s only three hours. I can get through three hours.”
“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.
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. You answer without actually answering.
“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!”
“I actually don’t miss being with my family on this holiday; I much prefer to be with the family I’ve built with my friends.”
“I’ve had better times, but I’m here to enjoy myself today.”
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 your Thanksgiving will not be the beginning of a long haul, but a day 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 Thanksgiving.
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!
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This was originally published on November 22, 2015 and was updated on November 17, 2018.