Now that we are into the holiday season, I’d like to remind you that you don’t have to be excited about the holidays. This is not meant to put down those who may be excited about the holidays. For many of us, however, the holidays are a very stressful time of the year. Let’s talk about some reasons why and some practical ways to cope.
Social pressure can be one reason why this season is particularly difficult. We see ads on TV and content in social media that portrays a “perfect” family or social gathering, impeccable decorations and table scapes, and portrayals of giving or receiving the “perfect” gift. We may even see our social media friends post pictures that can leave us feeling like everyone else is having a better holiday than we are. The truth is that commercials and social media are not reality—it’s a curated snapshot, or even fantasy. (And who knows how many takes it took to get that picture your friend posted.)
Another reason why the holidays may be challenging is family conflict or strained family relationships. The holidays can have us feeling like we’re supposed to squeeze all of our love for family into just a few days. Add to that the fact that, for many of us, our relationship with family may be hard to navigate or even hurtful, and we may feel like we’re somehow failing during this time of year. If spending time with family is hard for you, please know you’re not alone in this.
Grief can be another difficult aspect for many during this time of year. If you’ve lost a loved one, the holidays may feel really hard to get through. Holiday traditions can remind us of what we’ve lost and can feel painful to participate in. When we’re getting the message that we need to be happy and excited, we might feel like there isn’t room for grief. If allowing space for your grief means you’re not happy and excited, that’s totally ok.
So what are some ways to cope with this tricky season? Firstly, let’s resist the urge to compare ourselves and our real life experiences to what we see on TV or social media. Monitor how you feel when scrolling, and ask yourself, “Is this helping or hurting how I feel right now?” Similarly to taking breaks from social media, it’s ok to take breaks from family. Step outside for some fresh air, or take extra bathroom breaks (seriously!).
Additionally, have an exit strategy. Make a plan ahead of time for how long you plan on staying at a holiday gathering, and let people know as soon as you arrive that you won’t be able to stay long—maybe just an hour or two. Then, if you’re having a good time and want to stay longer, you can! It’s ok to change your mind, and no one’s likely to call you out for that.
Also, please know that you have permission to say “no” to any activity you don’t want to participate in. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.” If you’re grieving and need to just be home this year, that’s ok. If someone else thinks it’s “sad” that you’re not participating in holiday stuff, well, they probably don’t know how sad it is to lose a loved one. If decorating a tree with all of the old, sentimental family ornaments is just too much, consider doing a “hotel tree” where you just use generic decorations. There’s time in the future if you want to pull out the ornaments that were part of family tradition.
Finally, let’s remember the importance of having community when grieving. Maybe now is the time to agree to that invitation to the holiday party or to call up a friend when in need of support. David Kessler, a renowned grief expert has said, “what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed.” Let’s be gentle with ourselves and with others this holiday season and beyond.