“Peace of Mind” | When the Holidays Are Not So Happy

December 17, 2018

#WPUPeaceOfMind Blog No. 1:
When the Holidays Are Not So Happy

By Kelsey Garner, LPCA, NCC, Assistant Director of Counseling & Disability Services
Edited by Sheri Keasler, Student Services Office Manager

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Maybe this is the case for some, but for others, and in my honest opinion, I would guess for many others, the wonder and joy of the holidays are not fully present.

The Holiday Season is often glamorized as a time spent feasting, gift giving, and roasting chestnuts on an open fire. We are told by Hallmark movies, Christmas carols, and Black Friday commercials, to empty out our wallets and clear our schedules, to gather with family in pure seasonal bliss.

Although this may sound lovely, we must recognize the unrealistic nature of happiness for all, when we say “Happy Holidays.” For many folks, the weeks between November and January are far from merry and bright. The weight of brokenness within families, the darkness of grief, and the pang of loss, rise to the surface this time of year. Comparison, which I like to define as “the thief of joy,” echoes loudly while visions of “not enough-ness” dance in the heads of many. Holiday expectations and gatherings can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, body image issues, and disordered eating. Time spent with family can exasperate arguments, abuse, and relational strain. Hearing “there’s no place like home for the holidays” is especially challenging when you don’t have a home or a comfortable place to sleep at night.

If the holidays are not a time of year that you anticipate with glee, please know you are not alone. Below are a few suggestions to help you through the next couple of months:

Give Yourself Permission to Say No

Setting personal boundaries is a vital practice for maintaining your well-being. Saying “yes” to everything might feel good in the moment, but it will leave you feeling stretched too thin and you’ll likely end up not being able to keep your commitments. Although saying “no” might feel disappointing in the moment, you will feel more fulfilled and able to operate with a clear conscience in the long run. It is ok, and actually healthy, to decline invitations to holiday parties, gatherings, or family meals. Be honest with yourself about your own emotional and social capacity.

Avoid TV and Commercials

This time of year is filled with constant reminders about holiday deals and BOGO sales you “just can’t miss!” Consumer guilt is a real thing, and you are in full control over what you choose to consume through your eyes and ears. Stock up on TV shows and movies you want to watch or stream sans commercials. Pick out a few books you’d like to delve into over the holidays. The mute button on the remote is your friend.

Treat Yourself

Self-care can be a trendy buzzword, but it does not have to be glamorous or expensive. During a season of giving, giving to yourself is of the utmost importance. Without filling your own cup, you cannot possibly pour into others. Sometimes self-care is as simple as going on a walk outside to breathe some fresh air, treating yourself to your favorite snack without guilt, calling an old friend, jamming out to your favorite song, or buying yourself a gift you have wanted (you are allowed to do that, you know). Treating yourself to a nap, or early bedtime, is never a bad idea.

Stay Busy

There are two things that can certainly make depression worse: not having enough to do, and having too much mindless stuff to do. The holidays can bring about a lot of change in routine. Sometimes this will manifest as boredom and other times it may look like frantically filling your schedule with surface level tasks. Be intentional about picking one or two things you can do each day, which will allow you to be occupied in a valuable way. Plan to do things you enjoy and/or things that bring joy to others. Cook a meal for, or with a friend, volunteer with a local organization, build something with your hands, or try something brand new. Be creative!

Feel Your Feelings

This is probably the most cliché term of all, but it is truly necessary. The holidays can bring up memories from the past, repressed feelings, and mixed emotions. Just like a carbonated soda being shaken in a capped bottle, the pressure builds and explosion is inevitable. Avoid pressure build-up by acknowledging your feelings, even if they are not so pleasant. Find a safe space or a safe person to share your feelings with. Journal, draw, meditate, or dance. There are many ways to express how you’re feeling. Certain emotions like sadness, anger, grief, or frustration are not so great to feel in the moment, but releasing them provides you with freedom that would be unattainable, if they were kept bottled up and hidden.

Be sure to check back monthly for blog posts from WPU Health and Wellness, or search #WPUPeaceOfMind on social media for more content.