Family drama, grief over the loss of a loved one, a lack of family connections and feelings of loneliness, emptiness and hopelessness are just a handful of the painful realities many individuals face during the holidays
Though the holiday season is typically referred to as “the most wonderful time of the year,” there are many who experience a great deal of difficulty during this time. Aside from the hustle and bustle — the typically familiar stress of the holidays — there are emotional challenges. Family drama, grief over the loss of a loved one, a lack of family connections and feelings of loneliness, emptiness and hopelessness are just a handful of the painful realities many individuals face.
For those experiencing the latter this season, there is hope.
Even though reality may seem grim during a time when music and media would have us believing everyone else is enjoying a picturesque holiday, surrounded by family, friends, food and festivities, it is important to remain objective, mindful and grateful. These three specific tasks are necessary for avoiding the holiday blues. And, though these may be lumped into the category of easier said than done, there are simple tips — referred to as the “three be’s” — to employing them and acquiring a more positive perspective this holiday season.
Be objective — Don’t personalize it. Observe the holiday season objectively. Take in the sights and sounds around you — the good and bad — experience the thoughts and feelings that come up, but do so as a careful observer. The point is to maintain a more cognitive, or thought-oriented perspective than an emotive, or feelings-oriented one.
Of course, that can be difficult to do when it comes to family members. Their words and actions tend to hit harder. There are numerous families (the vast majority) who experience a great deal of dysfunction and drama throughout the year, and it gets amped up during the holiday season. And, as such, it can be difficult to remain objective.
However, it is important to remember that the actions of others are their own responsibility. And, typically, they’re also a projection of their own issues. In other words, it typically has nothing to do with anyone else but themselves. Keeping that in mind is the best way to prevent personalizing any painful acts or words. That is not to say it should be accepted or tolerated, but it one way to prevent an unnecessary emotional charge.
Be mindful — Stay in the moment. All too often, individuals begin to focus on the pain of the past (lost relationships, family members, etc.) or the fear of the future (financial worries, unmet personal goals, etc.) However, the present is the greatest gift. And, as such, the best way to avoid any holiday humbug is to remain in it. Focus on the here and now, rather than the what was or what will be.
And, for those whose families begin the holiday conversation with questions about your future or painful memories of your past, gentle reminders can easily be employed to shift the focus or redirect the conversation to the present moment. Ex. Q: “Are you ever going to get married?” A: “I’m not sure Gramma, but I love my life now and the independence I’m experiencing. Would you like to hear about my new job?”
In that example, an objective perspective (the knowledge that Gramma’s concern is likely more about her worries which stem from likely being raised in a generation where being without a husband or wife had negative implications than anything to do with you being a failure of some sort) makes a simple and respectful shift to a more positive and productive topic that keeps everyone in the present moment.
Be grateful — Water the flowers, not the weeds. It’s easy to look around and see all that we are lacking, especially during the holiday season—a time of increased consumption and constant social and/or family gatherings. However, it is important to transition that focus as well.
Rather than taking an inventory of all that is missing from your life, focus on what remains. It may take a back to basics approach (attending to basic elements of existence and survival, like being able breathe clean air, drink clean water, eat and be sheltered from the cold, etc.), but the point is to remember we all have many things to be grateful for. And, for the record, our lives are always worth living; and holidays filled with wonder and whimsy, as long as we focus on the things around and, most importantly, within us, that make it so.
Along with employing these simple tips, it is likely most important to remember that the experience of the holiday blues is a common one. You are not alone. In fact, we are all in this together. And, as such, it may be that the very best tip is one which is left out; be the reason someone else doesn’t feel hungry, cold or alone this holiday season. There’s no better way to shift your holiday perspective than to see and be a part of someone else’s.
Of course, if none of the aforementioned tips seem to work and/or the emotional pain goes beyond the holiday blues and becomes overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.