Updated: Sep 30, 2019
October is here which not only means pumpkin spice everything, colorful foliage, and Halloween; it means the holidays are fast approaching. I say there is no better time to start prepping ourselves like we are boxers on the corner ropes!
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!
So how do we cope? Here's some ideas to help:
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.
3. DO YOU!
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.
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.
In the end, I agree with my minister dad who would read from the Velveteen Rabbit every Christmas Eve. He believed the season was about love. This classic children's story describes what love is as a stuffed rabbit talking with another toy in a child's nursery.
"What is REAL?" the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit .
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Whether you believe in that love from a religious perspective or not, the fact is love is what makes us real, and, with love, comes pain. Remember to love yourself this holiday season and give love to others who may be suffering. Nothing else matters...except to those who don't understand.
I understand the pain that comes with this season. The support of a therapist can help.