I have a friend that at anytime a year she can give you the exact countdown to Christmas and when we get this close she gets really excited. But what if the holiday season is not joyful for you? Your family is a source of stress and all you hope for is to get out alive. You might have battle wounds from previous family gatherings some which haven’t healed yet. When you hear that Christmas music it just stirs up your feelings of dread. All you wish is that you could go to bed tonight and wake up on January 2.
The holidays tend to be a time where we react to other people. Your mom tells you when and where to show up or its your job to make sure everyone stays happy. We react to those pressures by jumping to other people’s expectations because after all we’re just trying to survive. Reacting to others often changes into feelings of hopelessness or loss of control. Instead of entering the events like a lamb to the slaughter ask yourself, what do I want my holiday to be like? What are my expectations? Then decide what activities fit you instead of you trying to fit them. Once you have a plan let other people know so their expectations for you are realistic.
There are some pressures we can’t escape so if there is an activity that you feel you can not skip then plan for that activity. Have an exit strategy or a way to take a break if you need a breather. Bring a friend with you who can act as a buffer or find a friendly person to sit beside. You can always stop a conversation by excusing yourself to the restroom because no one is going to follow you there.
One reason the holidays become painful is after they are over we stuff those feelings down and only let them back out the next year. When those feelings start to churn, slow yourself down and figure out what is bothering you. Has a memory come up, or are you afraid/upset with another person? Do you hate chocolate and your sister always gives it to you therefore she doesn’t really care? Did you lose someone, and the holidays remind you of them? Do you feel judged or invisible around the people you’re with? If you allow yourself time to think about it and feel your emotions rather than squashing them, then you can find ways to cope with them so that they don’t have to be the unwanted guest at Christmas every year.
You can survive the holidays. If you have feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, overwhelmed, an increase in racing thoughts or trouble sleeping you might need someone to come beside you and help you through them. You deserve to not only survive but to thrive. Please reach out to a mental health professional near you. You are not alone we are here to help.
Trish Pauls, MA RP