When Your Holiday Season Isn’t So Merry

We expect a lot from the holidays, but they don’t always deliver. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, reliving childhood traumas, battling depression, or just overworked and overwhelmed, you might not be feeling “merry and bright” right now. Here’s some advice for navigating the holidays and keeping love and joy in your heart – all year round.

Childhood memories and holiday let-downs.

When I was young, I remember getting so caught up in the build-up to Christmas day. Back then, we watched network television (when we could get decent reception on the 5 or 6 available channels) and there were regular holiday shows we’d watch every year. The Charlie Brown special, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas all served as a countdown to the big day, and of course, featured tons of commercials for toys and games.

My sisters and brother and I would pay close attention to the commercials and toy store inserts in the newspaper. We spent hours putting together our lists, crossing our fingers that we’d made the “good list” so Santa would deliver the presents we were hoping for.

Looking back, that anticipation was probably the best part of the holidays. Our household wasn’t picture-perfect, money was tight, and Christmas rarely lived up to our dreams. I know I’m not alone in this.

When New Year isn’t happy, and Christmas not so merry.

I was talking to a few friends just yesterday, and we found ourselves sharing our memories of the darker side of the season:

“My mom and dad always got in fights over money, and it was the worst during the holidays. On Christmas morning my dad would sit there seething about what my mom had spent on presents as we opened up our gifts.”

“We never know if we’d make it to midnight mass, or if my mother would be too drunk to leave the house.”

“There was so much tension between extended family members that we were lucky if we got through Thanksgiving dinner without a fight breaking out.”

“My mother suffered from depression, and the pressure of the holidays made it worse. When everyone in the world seemed to be celebrating, I couldn’t understand why our house was so dark and gloomy.”

“I remember a year when my father got so mad at us that he threw the Christmas tree across the room, shattering ornaments and making everyone cry.”

I must admit, we had a few laughs over our miserable holiday memories. We wound up trying to top one another’s childhood traumas! But it’s not a laughing matter when the holidays cause depression or trigger destructive behaviors.

Can you avoid depression around the holidays?

There are a million reasons to feel stressed and drained during the holidays. Childhood memories, financial pressure, family dynamics, too many chores, and obligations, social media posts that make it look like everyone is having a better season than you are – I could go on and on. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. With the goal of helping you navigate not just the holidays, but every month of the year, here are three things I want you to know.

Managing holiday expectations is the key to navigating the season.

Don’t buy into what you see on social media or the Hallmark Channel. Enjoy the holidays in your own way, honor the traditions you truly love, and leave the rest behind. Most of all, give yourself the freedom to say no to whatever feels like a burden or a chore.

The holidays are just a few days – but you have the power to be joyful every day of the year.

I use the holidays for some much-needed rest and recovery. My school and event schedule slows down, and I look forward to things like leisurely lunches with friends and evenings playing board games by the fire. What makes me happy is the knowledge that as an adult, I’m not at the mercy of my family or anyone else when it comes to my happiness. I make my own rituals and I’m not limited to any season when it comes to making merry.

You can let go of holiday baggage.

I can’t tell you how healing it was to trade memories with friends of how the holidays really were when I was young. Some of the stories they shared topped mine. When we were done, we all had a good laugh and made plans about how we really wanted to spend the next few weeks – scheduling simple fun and festivities that we could all look forward to. But here’s the crazy thing. After talking about it, I felt lighter – as if I’d released these memories into the air like a balloon and watched them float away.

If you’re feeling blue or triggered by the season I hope you’ll make a promise to yourself. Talk to a friend or counselor if you’re feeling blue. Manage your holiday expectations and don’t worry about impressing anyone else. Listen to your heart and do what brings you joy. And most important, don’t limit yourself to November and December to give freely, spread love, and practice kindness – to yourself and to everyone you meet.

And make a New Year’s resolution to remember the words of Ebenezer Scrooge and keep Christmas in your heart all year!

 

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