Category: Shifting Perspectives Written by Sofia Falcone
The Christmas holidays generate all kinds of feelings, joy and enthusiasm are the most common on these dates; however, there are other types of emotions which also arise during these dates: anxiety and depression are the most frequent.
So, what happens when our emotions don’t fit into the usual category of joy? It may seem strange to some but anxiety during the holidays is experienced by millions of people, it is completely normal, and in many ways, it is expected. Since childhood, we have been instructed about the importance of Christmas time and other holidays as deeply emotional times where all family members come together to share meaningful moments. But we must bear in mind we do not all reach the end of the year in the same way and although we may love our family very much, it may happen we do not feel-good attending meetings full of people when we are sad or when we feel our accomplishments are not going to be viewed as meaningful.
A family is supposed to be a safety net, but every family is complex and different. There are families who may have a few members whose only desire is to show off; much more so in modern times, where holiday time has lost is mental and spiritual meaning (love, compassion, care, acceptance, respect, gratefulness) and has become more a time for showing off how “well” one is doing economically or in status. These can create rivalry or unnecessary pressure. Even more pervasive scenarios are the ones where one has a deeply dysfunctional family or perhaps even an abusive one; in that case enduring the company of people who hurt you during a time meant to express gratefulness, violates your rights, and may leave you feeling powerless and hurt all over again.
The above are just some of the reasons why depression at Christmas time is something that happens often. If one battles with depression or anxiety, one can feel overwhelmed by holiday decorations, loud voices, fake laughter or out of place during conversations which may just revolved around the superficial. Whether because of these or because the holidays might remind us of the absence of a loved one or brings back painful childhood memories, we shouldn’t ignore our feelings just to make others feel comfortable. At the same time, we need to evaluate ourselves so as to do things that will liberate us not cage us –there is a difference between boundaries and total isolation. We can generate and partake in activities that allows us to be ourselves and which promote a stable emotional state, generating optimal mental health.
Some ways to help ourselves during the holidays are:
- Be prepared:While the holiday season is loaded with social engagements and invitations to various events, you should not force yourself beyond what you can take just so you can meet the expectations of others. Respect your energy, understand that you are not required to attend every meeting. Decide before the holidays start which social events you want or “have” to attend and do just that. Give room to your emotions and evaluate how far you can go to fulfill your social agenda so you may reserve energy for moments you can’t avoid.
- If you take medication:Be sure to take the proper dose. If you are in therapy, it is imperative you continue to attend therapy sessions; this will help you vent and prepare– working on possible scenarios that may occur.
- Take a friend:This person will be your partner and someone you know has your back and knows what you live with. They will be there to help you if you need it.
- Stick to your budget:Live within your means. You do not have to buy expensive gifts to people in order to demonstrate affection, and you certainly don’t have to spend on big gifts to try to feel accepted or “buy” their support. You treat people bad manners when doing so; ask yourself, do you want people to love you for you or do you want people to surround you for what you can give? Those who love you care more for the meaning than the price tag.
- If it’s a family event, arrive earlier to help: This will give you a sense of control. You can help prepare the event and create a comfortable environment for when the rest of the guests arrive. You will be able to participate in the preparation of the event and host rather than be one more of the ‘guests’–this will help dissipate a lot of the anxiety and it can also help boost your self-esteem.
- Consume cautiously.It is well known that the festivities are associated with large amounts of homemade meals, delicious desserts and drinks of all kinds. Therefore, it is recommended you consume with caution. Respect the limits of your body and allow yourself to indulge without hurting yourself. Sometimes when we get nervous alcohol seems the way to go to calm our nerves, but if we can’t regulate ourselves due to the emotionally charged episode taking place inside of us, or if we don’t have a friend there to keep us in check, we may end up consuming too much which will only lead to destructive scenarios. Scenarios in which no matter how much you may be in the right, others will only remember the amount of alcohol you were consuming.
- Say No. If you are expected to attend a family event and your family was abusive or someone who may have hurt you or likes to hurt you is going to be present, then say “NO.”Keep in mind that if you are sad, the physical discomfort will only worsen your emotional state; this means you will be on the edge without anyone saying or doing anything. If those who hurt you are present while you are feeling this way, it will only lead to a natural explosion of emotions.
Despite how much the pain you carry is valid, holiday time is not the time to discuss charged topics. This doesn’t mean Christmas time should be a time for superficialities but it is also a time to take into consideration everyone–keep in mind at the event there might be children or innocent people who may feel overwhelmed by the “news”–were these to come up.
You should not have to hide what happen to you or protect those responsible, but maturity dictates that it is best to have those type of conversations openly at different time with the appropriate parties and go from there. If you already have had those conversations and your family has chosen to ignore what happened and invite people who mistreated you to the same event as you, then you got your answer….you do not need to attend.
As hard as it might be to accept the disappointment brought on by a family’s lack of action, you cannot change them. You have the right to your mental, physical, and spiritual safety. It is better to surround yourself with people who do love you and who have your best interest at heart; people who will understand when you go through your ups and downs instead of acting inhumane passing judgement or spreading malicious gossip. You are valuable, the fact that you are still hurting or may still give in to some triggers does not make you less valuable; it is just your mind trying to find a rational explanation for irrational or perhaps even inhumane acts. Do not add more punishment to yourself, Christmas is about love and kindness–more than anyone else in this world, you need to offer yourself those things and a hell of a lot of self-compassion. You are not a bad person for choosing to decline time with family; you do not have to sacrifice your self-care and sanity to make others “happy.”
The best way to offer ourselves love is to promote the development of our emotional vocabulary; identifying our emotions will allow us to be in greater contact with ourselves and with the people around us.
Identify your emotions: It is necessary to provide a space and a time to each emotion. If I feel sad today, it does not mean that this sadness will last all week or the whole month, it is simply necessary to learn to live with our sadness one day at a time.
self-dialogue: It is important to be attentive to our triggers and create healthy and functional thoughts to counteract–this will allow us to destroy the lies we may have bought about ourselves, reducing anxiety and developing resilience.
Let us learn to be patient and merciful to ourselves. I can’t emphasize this enough–many times we justify the behavior of others thinking about the difficult circumstances they have had to live; however, it is necessary to have that same patience and good treatment with ourselves, listening to ourselves so we may move forward.
Ultimately remember, the holidays will pass…it is all temporary.
To those who do not battle with anxiety and depression: Please remember many people do, many people carry their hurts bravely, it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. There are unseen struggles, you may just be seeing a fraction of the whole picture, so be kind. Remember, what goes around comes around.
I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges and hopes, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves.
Reprinted on crystalwind.ca with written permission from Sofia Falcone.
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