While so many people look forward to the holiday season— as a time of snowy vacations and decadent meals, family get-togethers and thoughtful presents—the holiday season is equally (and even more so!) a time for many people to feel an upsurge of stress and anxiety.
Let’s explore what feelings come up for you around the holiday season.
Specifically, what about the holidays makes you feel stressed, anxious or depressed?
Here are four very common causes we hear. Do any of these ring a bell for you?
Challenging family members: During the holidays, you may find yourself around the same table with family members you intentionally keep a distance from during the rest of the year. Now suddenly, people are drinking and joking around, and your guard is down—when suddenly you find yourself hearing and witnessing the same hurtful words and actions you vowed you would protect yourself from.
What’s changed in your life or What has stayed the same: The holidays can be a poignant time of reflecting on what and who is no longer there with you. Divorces and deaths, painful partings and unfinished business can all appear like ghosts around the turkey roast. Or, it might be the fact that “nothing has changed” that is affecting you most this year. There may be patterns you are tired of seeing repeat themselves, or you may become conscious that there is a challenging conversation with a loved one you’ve been avoiding.
Feeling out of control: Spending a lot of time with friends or family, you may find it harder than usual to follow your preferred eating and exercise routines, or to maintain your yoga or spiritual practices. Being around others, especially as a guest in other people’s homes, it can feel hard to follow your own inner rhythms.
Feeling alone: While your friends or family members may be going off to spend time with family—and complaining about it to boot— this may be the time of year you find yourself all alone. Your friends may have invited you to join them, and you turned them down. Or you may have hidden how lonely you are from your friends and colleagues, to avoid awkwardness. Whatever the reason, you are feeling alone at the very moment when you believe everyone else in the whole world is happy, basked by love.
Even if it is painful to acknowledge the source of your holiday anxiety, stress or deep sadness, this acknowledgement is a vital first step in healing holiday anxiety and depression.
Whereas, if we numb ourselves with food, alcohol, technology (or choose-your-own-substance), we cannot honestly contact what we feel, and we cannot be real—with ourselves or the ones we love most.
There are a number of ways to handle holiday stress and anxiety. Here we’re going to look at some fresh new ways that can help you, not only survive the holidays, but to thrive long beyond.
A great guiding voice for how to thrive comes from poet-activist Dr. Maya Angelou. Her life mission offers a compass for navigating the holidays (and for navigating life!):
“My mission in life is not merely to survive,” Angelou once said, “but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”
No matter what else is going on this season, how can you bring some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style into your holidays?
Passion: What brings you passion? What fills your life with joy, excitement, and a sense of meaning? Pay especial attention to those reflective and creative activities that matter to you even if no one knows you did it. Make time this holiday season to engage with what you truly love. Give yourself space and time to come fully alive. Especially when no one else is watching.
Compassion: What helps you find compassion for yourself? What reminds you that you are allowed to get things wrong? Where do you find refuge from all the self-critics and outer critics? Connect with nature or music, a great book or a dear friend. Listen inside yourself for where you can go to feel totally and utterly forgiving of yourself, and to be safe to be who you truly are. Then, without asking permission or announcing it, simply and very definitely go there. Especially find comfort in being alone with yourself.
Humor: Sometimes there is absolutely nothing else we can do but laugh—at ourselves (lovingly, of course!) and with others. Watch your favourite comedy if that’s what does it for you. Let yourself really and truly feel laughter pounding through you, and chocolate milk running through your nose. Enjoy being free!
Style: Ah ~ this is where Maya Angelou really shines. What does style mean to you? Is it about clothes you love to wear, the way you love to dye or sculpt your hair, or about how you most love to walk, swinging your hips wildly? What style would you like to parade in a little bit (or a lot!) this holiday season? Remember, style is about you. Not about trends and what other people think. What way of expressing yourself would you most like to try on or take further than you ever have before?
Go ahead, live a little!
Let this holiday season be a time of facing all the usual and normal anxieties and stressors~ and meeting them with your passion, compassion, humor and style.
And don’t be surprised if you inspire a lot of other people along the way.
To learn more about how our expert therapists can help you manage anxiety click here.