For many of us, the holidays can be joyful--a time to connect with loved ones, to celebrate religious traditions, be sentimental, enjoy wonder through the eyes of a child. But managing the holidays is also stressful. Shopping, cooking, parties, overeating, over imbibing, visiting with family we may or may not appreciate, spending more money than we have, traveling, etc. It can take a toll on the fittest of us mentally, emotionally and physically.
And if you are someone who has had loss of any kind, I'm pretty sure there is even more bubbling under that perfect Facebook post or professional family photo this holiday season.
If you have had loss, the holidays bring up old pain and grief, sadness, loneliness, depression, feelings of inadequacy and self-judgement, guilt and more.
This isn't how we typically talk about holidays, but the truth is there are many people lonely and suffering from November through the New Year. The truth is, some people don't have family or shouldn't be with the family they have. Some are missing loved ones who have died, often tragically. Some are juggling tough divorces and visitation schedules with kids; some have been abused or let down by religious organizations; and, many are in recovery of one form or another all creating additional layers of stress and reminders of the pain. Don't forget our kids are absorbing all this too!
How do we honor our grief and loss during this challenging time of year?
If you don't want to be alone and aren't sure what to do with yourself start thinking about it now. Ask friends if they have plans, invite yourself, see if you can volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry or children’s event, attend a church activity or service, look on Meetup.com for social events.
2. To compare is to despair
Turn off social media for the holiday season or at least unfollow the people who may make you feel the worst/incite the most FOMO. Send out your own holiday photo card with your cat, only watch funny shows on TV. Just don't set yourself up. Be aware of what makes you feel crappy and say no to it. If the Hallmark channel makes you feel comforted and cozy, keep watching. If you notice you are too nostalgic and crying too much, maybe finding something else to watch is best.
3. DO YOU!
Sometimes, getting fully involved in the holiday can feel good. Maybe there's a tradition from your loved ones you want to continue. Or maybe you need to do things completely differently and give yourself space from the nostalgia. You don't have to have a tree if you don't want one. You can go to the movies and get Chinese takeout instead of midnight mass if this feels better for you. You can go on a cruise or to another State if you have the money. You can volunteer or visit a shut-in. Notice what feels right for you and give yourself permission to make your own rules.
I also like to remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays (even though marketing makes it feel like Christmas is the only holiday out there) and many people have to work holidays as if it were just another Monday—think cops, nurses, ER staff, taxi drivers, etc. Be unapologetic about how you celebrate or don't celebrate.
4. Say yes/Say No
If you are lucky enough to be invited to festivities and fun over the holidays, measure the amount to which you say yes. We aren't only absorbing our own stress but the stress of everyone around us as consumerism makes us feel that the holidays are more like a month-long marathon versus a 5k. That said, don't be afraid to say yes to an invite if it means you are keeping yourself from isolating. Isolation at any time is unhealthy but especially this time of year. Getting out and doing something/anything is always a better option to staying on the couch and getting in your negative head.
5. Stay Aware
If you seem grumpy and irritable maybe you need more sleep, less alcohol and sugar, or someone to talk to. If you notice someone else in need, reach out. Don't assume everyone has somewhere to go or someone to spend the holidays with or that everyone is happy about all the hype.
Keep as much of your normal routine as possible. Meditation and mindfulness will go a long way this time of year including noting the small things we can be grateful for: the smell of hot cocoa, the first snowfall before the plows come, or sparkly lights on the neighbor's house.
Light some candles for your loved ones who have died. Build an altar with pictures of them. Pray, write them letters or make a donation in their name. Talk about them to someone who understands. Just try to keep this holiday season as simple as possible. We never fully heal from the loss of our loved ones, we just adjust to a different way of living without them. Honor where you're at this season. There are people who get it and can support you.