We’re supposed to be excited about going into this period, but a significant number of people find themselves dreading elements of the season.
With its sparkly decorations, family traditions, and festive get-togethers, this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But for many of us, this period can be tough.
These are 5 reasons why this period can challenge your mood – and what to do about it:
- We are forced to be with people we don’t like
Your judgmental father-in-law. Your constantly one-upping cousin. Your critical frenemy. Your inappropriate co-worker. Every holiday season, we spend time with people like this in the name of fellowship, tradition, family, and the so-called “holiday spirit.”
Every year, we tell ourselves that this year will be different—we’ll avoid the arguments and keep the mood friendly. But the truth is, if someone causes you anger or anxiety during the other 11 months of the year, it’s unlikely that things will be any different at a family holiday lunch or office party. Go into the situation with realistic expectations and remember that your well-being (not being polite!) is your first priority.
If you feel your agitation rising, say, ‘Excuse me,’ and walk away. Then talk to someone else. Help in the kitchen. Play with the dog. Or just ride off into the sunset. Making yourself miserable by engaging with a nasty person just isn’t worth it.
- The holidays can remind us of loss
Maybe you were laid off from your job or have been diagnosed with a disease in the past year—and you’re dreading the “So, what’s new in your life?” questions you’ll have to field at get-togethers. Or perhaps you’ve lost a parent or been through a divorce and are depressed by the thought of facing the holidays alone.
No matter what you’ve lost—your health, a loved one, a job, or something else—the holidays tend to highlight what’s missing in your life. And unfortunately, there’s often no easy way to sidestep or dull the pain you’re feeling. As much as possible, enlist the support of your friends and family. They’ll provide a listening ear, they may help run social interference, and they’ll understand if you just don’t feel up to attending another party. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re struggling, either—there’s absolutely no shame in reaching out.
- We neglect our well-being
With so many holiday distractions and obligations, it’s all too easy for well-being strategies to fall by the wayside. We tell ourselves we’ll get back on the workout wagon, cut out the junk food, and catch up on our sleep after the new year…but those good intentions don’t cause us to feel any less exhausted or irritable right now.
Plan ahead. If you don’t, that walk, yoga class, healthy homemade meal, or eight hours of sleep won’t happen. Remember, if you aren’t feeling your best physically or mentally, you won’t have the zest and purpose you need to enjoy the period. I suggest making a special effort to fit physical activity into your schedule. Research shows that a 20-minute brisk walk, or the equivalent, significantly improves mood for up to 12 hours, and exercise also improves the quality of your sleep.
- We are confronted by what we don’t have
Of course, this happens throughout the year, but we’re especially prone to dwell on what others have (and we don’t) during this time of year. Maybe you’re going through a divorce, so spending time with your sister and her adoring husband makes you feel especially lonely. Or you’re struggling to make ends meet, so the fact that your best friend whisked his family off to Tahiti makes you feel like a failure.
If you find that your mood is consistently affected by feeling less-than, you may need to go on a social media diet. I also encourage you to talk to someone else—whether that’s a trusted friend, or counsellor—about what you’re feeling. Hopefully, this person can help you develop a healthier perspective by pointing out all the things you have to be proud of in your life. A focus on gratitude can be a game changer.
- We can spend too much
If you’re overspending on gifts, parties, food, decorations, and more, you won’t feel very festive. Instead, you’ll be brooding over your dwindling account balance and worrying about all of the bills you’ll receive once the celebrations are over. You may even begin to resent others for “forcing” you to buy them presents or attend costly events.
It can’t be said enough: Setting (and sticking to) a Christmas budget can make this time of year so much more enjoyable. Figure out how much you can comfortably spend, identify priorities, and record each expenditure. Also, remember that money and value aren’t necessarily synonymous. You might consider having a Kris Kringle with friends with a pre-set limit. Writing a heartfelt note of appreciation to family members can be more valuable than a gift.
The holidays can exacerbate depression or anxiety. If you’re suffering from clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, you’re struggling with a lot more than “just” the holiday blues. Typical holiday stressors can seem overwhelming, and the knowledge that you’re “supposed” to be carefree and happy can make you feel even worse.
As someone who has struggled with severe depression, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you prioritize your well-being above others’ expectations. With their social expectations and reminders of loss, the holidays can feel like a psychological minefield. Make sure you keep the lines of communication with your doctor or counsellor open and try to discuss healthy coping mechanisms beforehand.
May the best of life and love and happiness be ahead of you.