The holidays are here! Yay…? While everyone around you seems joyful and excited, you may be wondering why you’re feeling so blue.
If you’re feeling depressed or anxious during this time of the year, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, the holiday season triggers feelings of sadness, irritability, loneliness, grief, depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other unpleasant emotions for more people than you think.
For some of us, holidays bring pleasant memories. For others, on the other hand, holidays have that sneaky nature of bringing some painful memories to the surface. Add financial pressure, tight deadlines, social obligations, or meeting with family members that you know will say or do something that stresses you out… Now it’s not so surprising that you’re not all that cheerful and excited for holidays, is it? However, there are ways to turn things around and feel different than this.
So, let’s try to make it a little easier this year. Here are 4 strategies for handling this end-of-the-year situation and coping with holiday depression:
*** 1. Let yourself feel. ***
Suppressing emotions is a road to depression. Emotional avoidance is one of the main causes of not only depression, but a wide range of psychological problems. Don’t be afraid of your feelings – they are already there in you. If you’re trying to avoid grief, loneliness, sadness or any other unpleasant emotion because you think it’s intolerable or dangerous or inappropriate, you’ll soon feel anxious about such emotion arising. Before you know it, you’ll invest so much energy in trying to suppress unpleasant feelings surfacing, that it will drain all your energy and become a negative experience itself.
It’s OK to cry and feel sad or lonely. Give yourself some time to sit with your painful feelings and to accept them. Acceptance can feel relieving – it means you don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of energy anymore on pushing your feelings away. So, let yourself feel. THEN – and don’t forget this step – do something nice for yourself.
*** 2. Create new traditions. ***
Putting on a brave face for others can be especially difficult when the world is blasting us with images of group hugs and the memory of your final hug with someone you love is all that you can think about.
– Suzanne Deges-White, Ph.D., Psychology Today
Holidays have a way of opening old wounds that we may try to forget about during the year. Also, sometimes, there is pressure to perform rituals and traditions that we may not necessarily feel connected to or comfortable doing. Some people even feel that, by changing the same old holiday traditions, they will somehow betray their loved ones who are no longer with them.
Instead of focusing on what once was, why don’t you try and create a new tradition? There are no hard rules on how your holiday should look like. It’s completely OK to get creative and do something out of the ordinary. This doesn’t mean you have to erase all the rituals that were once a part of your holidays; instead, you can reinvent them in a way that feels fun and comfortable for you and your loved ones, or even create a special new ritual that honours the person that is no longer there. Starting a new tradition can help create fresh memories of holidays, no longer overshadowed by the past.
*** 3. Keep Your Expectations in Check ***
These days, fairy-tallish photos and videos of happy people enjoying the holidays with their loved ones seem to be everywhere. Movies, TV shows, and social media set great expectations of how this time of the year “should” feel. What is important to have in mind is that reality is often different.
Everyone has their own version of the perfect holiday. However, when reality doesn’t live up to the dream, stress and disappointment kick in. It’s nice to have a plan for how you’d like to spend your holidays, including details about people, decoration, food, gifts, etc. It’s a whole other story if everything MUST be the way you planned it. Instead of losing your mind over a burnt tray of cookies or your cousin being late to the family gathering again, stop for a moment and change your perspective. Look at these missteps as opportunities to exercise your resilience and flexibility.
When you throw away all “musts” and “shoulds”, you’ll view things more realistically, and remove the pressure that’s causing you stress and negativity. Set your expectations aside and remind yourself to enjoy the moment.
*** 4. Go Outside and Give. ***
Whatever you do, it’s best not to withdraw yourself completely from social activities and holiday festivities. Isolation will almost certainly make holiday blues worse. Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer to the world. If you feel lonely, or like you don’t have anybody to spend holidays with, it doesn’t mean you have to stay alone. There are people out there that will enjoy your company much more than you think. So, get outside and do what you can to make their (and your) holidays more pleasant and less lonely. Kindness is such an incredible tool to combat sadness – yours or other peoples’.
Donate gifts to families in need, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to help people at a nursing home or homeless shelter or wherever it’s possible in your city. Go outside and explore what new nice things holidays have for you.
And in the end, the most important thing of all: don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you’re having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. There is a difference between holiday blues, which lasts only around the holiday time, and more severe depression. If the holiday season passes and you still feel the same, it’s best to consult a professional.
We know you got this.
Enjoy the holidays 🙂
“I’d like to do that, but what would they think of me?!”
“OMG this is so embarrassing.”
“I know I shouldn’t care about what other people think and I would love to stop but I just can’t.”
Bet you’ve had some of the above thoughts at least once in your life.
The majority of people have the need to fit in and connect to others – it’s one of the basic human needs.
In fact, from the evolutionary perspective, making sure to gain social acceptance was the most important thing for your great great great ancestors to survive. In those times, living alone in the wilderness was equal to, well, being dead very soon. Therefore, social acceptance and being a part of the tribe was everything! However, times have dramatically changed, and, fast forward 10,000 years to today, our survival no longer depends on the judgment of others. Still, we’re left with this pretty annoying habit of worrying about what other people think of us in the world where the concept of social survival doesn’t exist anymore.
So, what do we do with it now?
First of all, being aware of how others perceive us can be useful for us but – and this is the key – in moderation. Being insensitive of other people’s opinions is not helpful – it can get you in trouble and harm your meaningful relationships. If you care about what your boss or your family or close friends think of you, it can help you be a better friend, relative, employee. You’ll be kinder, gentler, and probably happier in general.
Unless you care too much.
Sometimes we can spend a large portion of time and energy worrying about being socially judged, and that’s the point where healthy awareness becomes a source of stress and anxiety. It can hold you back from making changes in life or doing things you love because of the fear of how it will look. In the end, it can prevent you from showing the world the real you. And that’s a pity, because we’re all unique, and the world deserves to see you as you really are. And you deserve it too.
So, if you decided to take control over your fear of being socially judged and over time and energy you invest in it, here are two new ways you can look at it:
Perspective 1: People don’t think about you as much as you think
Studies show that we constantly overestimate how much other people think about us and how harshly they judge us. In reality, although it’s not always visible, the majority of people is far more focused and worried about how they’ll appear to others, including you.
When you have this in mind, it changes your perspective on social situations. If you’re aware that people are often concerned about how they’ll be perceived as much as you are, you can shift your focus from worry to kindness. Instead of being self-conscious all the time, help others feel appreciated and valued and make social situations easier for them. It will make you both feel better.
Perspective 2: Caring what other people think of you should depend on the nature of your relationship
You probably heard before that you shouldn’t care what others think. Well, that’s true… and also not.
How much you care about others’ opinions should depend on the nature of your relationship. As mentioned above, paying attention to the views of close family and friends is good for both sides. It leads to greater satisfaction with the relationship and works toward keeping that relationship in a good place. As long as your decisions are influenced by your own judgment and not by the fear of how your close ones will react, everything is good.
On the other hand, opinions of people you encounter on the street or in the public transport should not matter at all.
That’s right – none.
Worrying about what acquaintances or people who you probably won’t see again think of you is not that useful. It can prevent you from speaking your opinion, looking how you want to look, or doing things you enjoy in public, like singing or reading a book while sitting alone in a café.
The only remedy for this is practice – express yourself in small steps. Do things you’d like to do that don’t harm anyone, but you’re too embarrassed of doing. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first, but step by step, it will become easier. Ultimately, you’ll feel freer and more confident.
Wear that weird hat you love so much. Say your political opinion (politely) even when you know the person who you’re speaking with doesn’t agree. Dance to that amazing song street musician is playing.
It doesn’t matter if they’ll approve or not. What matters is what you’ll slowly find out, and that is that other people’s opinions can’t harm you. Also, it will surprise you how many people will accept you as you are, in spite of all flaws you try to hide so badly.
What’s the smallest step you’re ready to take right now?