Are Your Holidays Truly Happy?

Written by Meaghan Heighway, LMHC-P

“I think holidays create so much pressure because people feel they should be having a good time.” (Colin Ferguson)

Have you noticed that already, there are murmurings about the upcoming holidays? Slowly, signs are starting to creep into the media, about impending sales that will enable you to buy more for the one you cherish. Signs of recipes that will feed the twenty-or-more crowd that will be taking over your humble abode in the spirit of the season. Signs that somehow our society is determined to add more to our already-overstuffed schedules, take more from our already-depleted bank accounts, and slither in more feelings of overwhelming stress and inadequacy.

But can we actually handle more? Well, we can (human beings are amazingly resilient when we need to be), but perhaps a better question is: should we handle more? The holidays are coming whether we want them to or not, and we all tend to get swept up into the over-powering glitz, glamor and guilt that accompanies this season. Here are three questions to consider as you start your holiday planning:

  1. What do I need out of this season? One large part of the holidays is family – this entity can be one of the most wonderful (or most horrible) parts of the entire season. For all the good things that family can bring to us, they also tend to bring a sense of obligation and sharp reminders of what is lacking (perhaps a relationship is strained, or a member has passed on). Realizing that you will be probably dealing with family in some form this season, can help you to turn inward and ask yourself: what do I need out of this season? This is not a selfish question, nor is it asking you to disregard all familial expectations. This question asks you to address if there are ways you can weave in your own hopes and expectations into the larger experience. One example would be: perhaps your family always expects you to host the New Years’ Eve party, but after some introspection you realize that it is just too much for your schedule, and what you need is one less thing. Starting early (before Christmas, or even Thanksgiving) clearly state that you cannot host the party this year (you don’t need to explain your reasons, if you don’t want to). However, you think having a family meal at a popular buffet restaurant would be a wonderful way to ring in the New Year – and you will make the reservations.
  2. Are my expectations accurate? The holidays can bring in harsh reminders of what is lacking. When there is an overbearing sense of frivolity, if you personally do not feel this way the pressure is that much greater to act the part. The holidays can bring in stark reminders of loved ones who have passed; dysfunctional relationships that have caused strain or are essentially severed; or dreams that you once held on to but have not seen come to pass. Bearing in mind what society tends to demand in this season (happiness, cheer, extravagant gifts or declarations, etc.), consider: what are your personal expectations for this season? For example, if you have recently (or even years ago) lost a loved one, reminders of their presence can be particularly haunting in this season. Take some time to show compassion to yourself, and realize that this season may peel off to a new layer of grief that you may not even have been aware of. With this reality in mind, be more careful – limit your obligations, take care of the basics (eat realistically, try to exercise at least weekly, get adequate sleep), and find an outlet to express your grief (journaling, drawing / coloring, or talking with a counselor are all good mediums).
  3. What ‘should’ can I let go of? The holidays are overwhelming for many, and one large reason for this is the essence of should – you ‘should’ be happy, ‘should’ get your grandson everything on his gift list, ‘should’ not gain weight during the parade of meals. As you consider moving through the season, ask yourself what should you may be hanging on to – is it accurate? What can you do to either eliminate or change that should? If you pick something specific to tackle, keep it simple; consider experiences over large sums of money spent on material things; and know what your personal limits are.

We often say, “Happy Holidays!” during the season – but inside, we may not feel that way. Give yourself the gifts of considering these questions, and extending compassion to yourself, as you celebrate.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is intended to educate, inform and entertain. This does not represent psychotherapy, therapeutic assessment, or any other form of therapeutic intervention. This should not be used as a substitute for consultation and treatment with a licensed mental health professional. If you have questions related to the material contained in this site please contact CCM or a licensed mental health professional of your choice.

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