Holiday Blues

Lately, I have seen messaging around the thought that not everyone is in a celebratory mood during the winter holiday season. For many of us, the holiday sadness is challenging to cope with when, everywhere I look, people sing about how this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” Add a divorce into the mix with a child who struggles with emotional control, and wham – I begin to start rooting for the Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge!

But it’s not just the elderly, disabled, homeless, or sick children who struggle through the holidays; there are many more types of people and even more reasons to go along with them. For example, I lost my mom to a heart attack in the middle of the holiday season, so naturally, I get emotional during this time of year. I miss her; I miss her cooking and her homemade Christmas gifts. I miss her being a Nana to my children. For me, the holiday season is not always “merry and bright.” In fact, in the most recent years, it has been accompanied by sadness and a tinge of darkness, too.

The experts suggest that if you are lonely, go help someone, volunteer at your local community center, or go assist those less fortunate and watch your gratitude grow. It’s almost like magic how well it works. And if you’re down right now, reading this, its probably the last thing you want to hear…gratitude!

So, how do I handle movies and ads broadcasting family and togetherness if we’ve lost a loved one or your kids are with your ex? What can we do with so many messages about everything being “merry and bright”? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll want to make it worse and do things like turn on Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” The Eagles, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” or one of my all-time favorites to cry to, Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas.”

Let’s see what else might be helpful and keep reading.

Why do people struggle during the holidays?

Never underestimate the power of listening, caring, or bringing laughter into the room; sharing love through these actions can transform lives, including our own.

When coming up with ways to help those who are struggling, remember your gifts; this is where your actions will really make a difference if they truly come from the heart. For example, if you are an artist, go draw family portraits at the local senior centers. If you are a musician, grab your friends and go caroling at the local children’s hospital. If you are a photographer, go take photographs of your musician friends at the hospital. The list is really quite endless.

The point is, to grow along spiritual lines, ever reminding us to utilize our gifts, to share them, and to give of ourselves as much as we are given. At least, that’s the philanthropic theory that has been shared and suggested to me to follow not only during the holidays but the whole year through.

If you are at a loss, here is a good-sized list to get you thinking:

  • Help a senior with errands and transportation
  • Bring entertainment to a senior or community center
  • Music
  • Comedy
  • Art
  • Culinary, etc.
  • Coordinate a holiday gift exchange in a nursing home or an assisted living facility
  • Host a holiday craft workshop for the developmentally challenged to create handmade decorations or gifts
  • Organize a group of volunteers to shovel snow or clear leaves from the yards of elderly neighbors
  • Organize a holiday sing-along for a community center, bringing together a group of carolers

Holidays and mental health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “The truth is that, for many, this can actually be the most difficult time of the year. In 2014, NAMI found that 64% of people with mental illness say the holidays make their conditions worse. A 2021 survey showed that 3 in 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays,”.

Should you find yourself feeling lonely or anxious about the holidays, you are certainly not alone. Here are a few steps NAMI suggests as a means to assist in coping with the wave of emotions:

  • Accept Your Feelings

It’s okay to feel happy; it’s okay to feel sad; it’s even okay to feel both happy and sad. Give yourself compassion and allow yourself to sit with whatever you’re feeling.

  • Maintain Healthy Habits

Maintaining healthy habits like going to therapy, getting enough sleep, and exercising are critical to keeping your mental health on track.

  • Set Boundaries

People like to be generous during the holidays, but that generosity doesn’t have to come at the expense of having healthy boundaries. If hosting an event or buying an expensive gift is too stressful, saying no is okay. It’s also okay to limit the time you spend with family that you may have a complicated dynamic with.

  • Make Time to Connect
  • Mindfulness
  • Don’t Rely on Drugs and Alcohol
  • Soak Up the Sun 
  • Set Realistic Expectations (but do not plan the outcomes!)

According to another, more recent poll by the American Psychological Association, “U.S. adults are feeling joyous but overwhelmed this holiday season (2023), as nearly nine in 10 (89%) say that concerns such as not having enough money, missing loved ones and anticipating family conflict cause them stress at this time of year.

While nearly half of U.S. adults (49%) would describe their stress levels during the traditional U.S. holiday season between November and January as “moderate,” around two in five (41%) said their stress increases during this time compared with other points in the year. While stress appears to be common at this time of year, 43% said that the stress of the holidays interferes with their ability to enjoy them and 36% said the holidays feel like a competition,”.

Holiday blues

In conclusion, although the lights and sounds of the holidays seem joyful, for some, they are not. As we have learned so much more about mental health since the pandemic, we can try to be more empathetic and understanding of those who do not seem so “cheery” this time of year and instead offer our time and grace. May peace and everlasting love be with you always, especially during the holidays…

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