A common expectation is that the holidays will bring joy and happiness. Think about it, cozy sweaters, holiday lights, hot cocoa—what’s not to love? However, it doesn’t take an expert to realize many stressful moving parts need to fall into place before you get to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. Aside from cooking, cleaning, and entertaining, the holidays can stir up a lot of unwanted emotions that are difficult to deal with when you’re supposed to be feeling holly and jolly.
The silver lining is that when we can identify our feelings and express them, we are then able to take steps to remedy those feelings. Besides, acknowledging that you aren’t alone when you’re battling feelings of loss or loneliness can make you feel less alienated. Inadvertently, 64% of people battling mental illness reported feeling worse, not better, during the holidays. With any emotion or stressor you face, there are coping mechanisms that can improve your mental state and potentially remove that raincloud you feel over your head. Below are strategies you can use to rekindle the holiday magic when you’re feeling down.
There’s a saying that the worst feeling is to be surrounded by lots of people and still feel alone. During the holidays, it is likely you’ll be surrounded by friends and family, but you may still feel a sense of loneliness inside. On the other hand, you might be isolated and not able to spend time with family due to distance or other factors that prevent you from being with the ones you love.
Resist the temptation to stay in bed for the entire day—even if it’s just to take a short walk, or engage in a hobby like cooking, coloring, or playing music. When you are physically or mentally active, you are less likely to dwell in your loneliness. Something as simple as calling or texting a friend to talk about what you’re going through can ease the emptiness and make you feel less alone. Feeling less alone is not a matter of being around people constantly, but rather having engaging and fulfilling interactions with people whom you care about.
Grief and Loss
The holidays can be a triggering time if you have lost someone close to you. If it was especially recent, it may not feel fair to be happy and enjoying yourself while they aren’t here any longer.
Understanding that the person you lost would want you to be happy and not spending all of your time mourning them is important. Remembering and honoring the person you lost doesn’t have to be about crying, but rather about reminiscing and appreciating the good times you shared while they were here. Also, grief is a part of the healing process, and instead of pretending the holidays don’t exist or trying to numb the pain with alcohol, let yourself acknowledge that grief. The holidays will get easier, but for now, it’s okay to sit with grief in whatever capacity it presents itself.
Mourning the past
Just because your holidays looked a certain way in the past doesn’t mean that they have to look that way moving forward. Life is fluid, and as humans, we can readapt to new situations. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as forever when it comes to traditions, but this can be difficult to accept. Memories have a way of creeping up during the holidays, and if your current life circumstances aren’t the best, it may hurt to take a look at how things have changed.
The best thing you can do is to focus on what you can control. Creating a new holiday tradition can not only distract you but also keep your spirits alive. If it is too difficult to stay where you are—haunted by memories—allow yourself to travel somewhere new. You can go as far or close as you’d like, but a change of scenery may be exactly what’s needed. Another good way to distract yourself is to volunteer at a soup kitchen or hospital. Giving back provides a healthy boost in life satisfaction that may be helpful during this time.
The holidays are a particularly difficult time if you suffer from social anxiety. The societal expectations put a lot of pressure on what we should be doing, how we should be feeling, and how our demeanor is supposed to be.
Try to go into the holidays with a positive mindset, maybe by utilizing positive affirmations. Be on the lookout for unwanted negative thinking in the form of cognitive distortions, as these prevent you from actually experiencing life. Another tip is to avoid alcohol because while it may give you “liquid courage” at the moment, it can make anxiety worse the next day due to a depletion in dopamine and serotonin. Also, taking alcohol out of the equation ensures you will be in control. Lastly, know that it’s okay to say “no” to plans when you’re feeling overwhelmed.