As we well know, while the holidays can be a source of joy for many people, the holidays are also a source of sadness for many others. If you’re someone who finds it generally depressing to check your Facebook wall and see all of the images of happiness, then imagine all the television shows and commercials, the decorations in stores and on people’s homes, the grocery stores, and shopping malls all reflecting the enthusiasm of your Facebook wall, with a joint holiday theme. It may sound nice if we’re living in your favorite holiday movies, but not if you’re someone who struggles just to get through the holidays each year without breaking down. For many people, the holidays are a time to be with family and friends and celebrate meaningful rituals together. But for many, the holidays are a time we are reminded of the people who are no longer here, families we may no longer have or associate with, and often a trigger for positive memories of the past that leave emotional voids and longing in the present.
People who tend to generally feel isolated often experience an intensification of sadness during this time of year, as the world around them emphatically promotes happiness and togetherness as seemingly the only way to be a part of this galaxy.
The idealization of the holidays brings an additional component of sadness. If joyful holiday scenes are the most important marker of meaning in a person’s family life (as the media, TV, and Hollywood would have us believe) and there’s no one to share it with, or it’s simply just not what it used to be, this can make some people start to feel hopeless and defeated. Witnessing the happiness, joy, and togetherness around them just adds to the hopelessness — the feeling that everyone else in the world is happy except for them.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many, many people who struggle with holiday depression. If you are one of these people, it’s important to understand that you are not alone. In fact, it’s possible that you at least have acquaintances, if not closer friends, who similarly do not look forward to the holidays and only look forward to moving past November and December each year.
Here are a few suggestions for getting through the holiday season if you struggle with holiday depression:
- Non-holiday gathering. If you have friends or acquaintances who struggle with the holidays, consider having a gathering of your own preference. Maybe even invite people you don’t know who are also in the same boat. Whether or not these are close friends, you already will have common ground in helping to support each other through the holidays.
- Break the holiday idealization. It’s just another day. While the media and social media won’t let us believe that’s the case, the holidays are only as grand as we allow them to be. Some people don’t regard the holidays as a special day at all, and just live them as an ordinary day, filling the day with whatever brings them fulfillment.
- Time off from social media. Even when it’s not the holidays, social media have a way of making people feel bad about their lives. The holidays on social media are sort of like regular days on steroids — all of the seemingly exorbitant levels of happiness dressed in a holiday theme. (Maybe it would help if people also posted the frustrations and not just the good things that make it seem like life is always wonderful). Around the holidays (approximately a week before and a few days after), keep with reality by taking a break from Facebook, Twitter, and any other happiness media.
- Take a break from TV. If you’re going to be alone around the holidays and must watch some TV, I suggest watching things that make you forget it’s the holiday season. Reruns of tv shows (not the holiday episodes), movies that aren’t holiday themed, sports, or otherwise. Be careful with TV — the commercials will still remind you of the time of year. (And maybe stay away from all Steve Martin movies. As funny as they can be, even his non-holiday movies have a way of portraying life with the ideal happy family living in a mansion in Beverly Hills. Come to think of it, maybe just eliminate all comedies with snow…). So, if you can, I recommend another form of entertainment — books, puzzles, word puzzles, cooking, baking, gym, crafts, building, etc.
- Focus on your hobbies. If you find yourself alone, or choose to be alone, around the holidays, make it a time of year to focus on your hobbies. These can be any of the activities above, or anything else that interests you — traveling, hiking, bike riding, movies, golfing, gaming, etc. Also, try meetup.com as a possibility for activity groups around the holidays that can bring you around other people who enjoy the same hobbies as you.
There are other possibilities for getting through the holidays. The main idea is to know that you don’t have to be alone, and to know that you are not alone in your desire to move straight from November 15th to January 3rd
By Nathan Feiles, LCSW