As we approach the festivities of the holiday season surrounded by cheerfulness and enthusiastic plans for family celebrations and holidays, it can feel very isolating not to share this enthusiasm or have any desire to participate in the celebrations.
The social expectations to be happy, convivial and feel excited about the holiday season can make it very difficult to speak up if you don’t feel the same. Trying to feign inauthentic enthusiasm can be exhausting and lead to even more intense feelings of separation. While it’s true that many of us have friends and family to connect with during the holiday season, there are those for whom this time of year intensifies feelings of loneliness. People who are predisposed to depression or anxiety or those dealing with loss and grief can find it especially hard to feel out-of-step with the celebratory mood all around them.
Simple ways to take care of yourself during the holidays
- It is important to realise that you don’t need to force yourself to be happy and to remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.
- Avoid the temptation to use alcohol or other substances to numb or avoid feelings as this can heighten anxiety and depression
- If possible, surround yourself with people who feel similarly and create your own unique ‘get-togethers’, which are supportive and understanding and do not impose any pressure to feel a certain way.
- Reduce the stress, which so often accompanies the holiday season with all its expectations, by learning what triggers your anxiety or sadness, so you can prepare yourself in advance to navigate this time with more equanimity.
- If you are living with grief, loss or trauma, you may view this time of year with apprehension and overwhelming sadness, accentuated by being surrounded by high spirits and jollity on every side. Be gentle with yourself – you do not need to force yourself to join in the festivities. Connect with a support group, a therapist, a faith community or friends who understand. As much as possible, let your loved ones know how they can support you, whether it’s helping you with shopping or meeting up for a regular walk. Often, people want to help but don’t know what to say or where to start.
- In their enthusiasm, people can sometimes get carried away and pressure you to participate in activities you have no desire to join. Don’t feel you need to succumb to the pressure, however well-meant and give yourself permission to say ‘No’.
- Social obligations and expectations to celebrate holidays in a specific way can bring up old trauma or family conflicts. It can help to ease tensions if you communicate your plans to friends and family early in the holiday season, so everyone knows what to expect. Don’t overextend yourself and plan the preparation, making sure you include time for self-care in your schedule.
You may even choose not to celebrate at all—and that’s perfectly fine. Instead of spending the holidays the way you think you should opt for an activity you actually feel like doing—whether it’s making a favourite dish or a walk in the park.
Four gifts to give yourself this holiday season:
Connection –with people, places and things that make you feel happy. Schedule regular chats with friends, send out holiday cards and communicate with friends and family by phone, text, email and social media.
Calm – engage in activities such as reading, meditating and gratitude journaling if you don’t feel comfortable in social situations.
Care – nurture yourself with a healthy diet (don’t forget to treat yourself to that mince pie or a little of what you fancy, too), go for gentle walks and get plenty of sleep. Take time to do things you enjoy and surround yourself with supportive and positive people.
Celebration – in whatever way feels right for you – even if it is simply to enjoy a respite from everyday routines, to appreciate the small joys we are sometimes too distracted to notice and to be grateful for you.