The cold weather has finally set in, the days are shorter, and the holidays are right around the corner. It’s that time of year. For many, this time of year brings feelings of warmth, joy, and connection to loved ones. For the rest of us, feelings of financial stress and the crushing devastation that our family will never be the one we saw in the famous Rockwell painting will make its yearly appearance.
While the upcoming holidays sell themselves on ideas of love, joy, and gratitude, they seldom deliver just those feelings, if they deliver those feelings at all. For some, the loss of a loved one makes this time of year even more painful. For others, it’s a political confrontation that occurs every year with the same family member. If you didn’t feel bad enough, perfectly modified posts on social media can add a layer of inadequacy you didn’t know you could feel for yourself and life. You might think to yourself, “I wasn’t feeling this bad about everything until the holidays came up.”
You are not alone. Although social media posts may tell a different story, I have yet to meet a person who didn’t experience some familial or situational strife related to the holidays. So what is it about holidays that cause us to feel less than happy, fulfilled, loved, and connected?
Holidays force a feeling on us. Just listen to some of the lyrics of classic holiday songs (I’m looking at you, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”). Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice we have a time of year dedicated to “bringing good cheer,” but what happens if we aren’t feeling particularly cheerful? What happens when the unforgivingly cold weather, shorter days, and the stress from family and finances become too much?
We’re left feeling alone at a table full of people; and in that loneliness lies sadness and even anger about the loneliness. In a scene of bright lights, wreaths, and jolly music, the crushing feeling in our chest grows heavier. You can attempt to push the feeling down, resist it, or simply pretend everything is okay. It’s up to you, but it’s my guess that in doing any of those things you might end up feeling worse because now on top of the sadness or anger is the pressure to keep up an appearance. From my experience, pushing away a feeling only adds fuel to its flame.
The other option is to begin to accept the feeling. Before you even travel this year, make some time to reflect upon the feelings you know will emerge. Sometimes this means grieving the loss of the family you will never have, but always wanted. It may be worthwhile to grieve mom and dad’s divorce once more. This may feel silly as an adult, but grief is an ongoing process, and every triggering event is an opportunity to work through it.
Many of us have grown so accustom to this experience we come to anticipate it in advance. I’m not going to suggest you reframe how you think about your holiday experiences. I understand that Uncle Jim is really a belligerent drunk, and your cousin, Drew is a pretentious *expletive*. But given what we already know, what can we do to make the holidays at the very least tolerable, if not enjoyable?
Coping ahead is a concept that suggests we take the information we have and use it to prepare ourselves ahead of the unwanted event happening. So Aunt Suzie comments every year that you’re the last cousin to find someone, and single doesn’t look good on (insert your age here). You know this is going to happen.
Coping ahead means preparing for that moment ahead of time. How would you like to navigate Aunt Suzie’s slight? Would you prefer to have a witty, and self-respecting reply? Would you prefer to remove yourself from the conversation? Spend some time thinking about the incidents you know have a high chance of occurring and that will trigger you. Now spend some time brainstorming different ways to handle that situation. Decide ahead of time which tactics you will use in order to maintain your own boundaries and desired experience.
Additionally, what can you do for yourself to simply make the entire holiday more manageable? For me, it’s making sure I have my “secret getaway” tools available: my laptop to journal, a car to be able to remove myself if need be, a friend for support. Anything that you can do to support yourself in what you know will be a challenging time, is encouraged.
We can’t control our family members, the weather, or obnoxious posts on social media that make us feel depressed in what we’d like to be a joyous time of year. We can however, accept our feelings exactly as they are, and cope ahead to prepare for the tribulation that this time of year brings.