Coping with a Less-than-Perfect Holiday
This post was written by Rosalind Kaplan, MD, FACP. Dr. Kaplan has been in clinical practice for 26 years. She enjoys practicing General Internal Medicine because of the variety of issues she is able to address. She is especially interested in the interaction of physical and psychological health, including the effects of stress on wellness, and in the medical monitoring of patients with eating disorders.
For some people, the winter holiday season conjures images of sitting by the fire, ice skating as a family, and big gatherings of laughing people clinking their glasses and enjoying a feast of festive foods. We see these images on TV and hear joyful Christmas music playing even before Thanksgiving. Everyone looks so happy and so hopeful!
But for others, these images themselves are a trigger for feelings of isolation. “ Why don’t I have a big group of friends and family to celebrate with?” or “Why is everyone so happy in their relationships except me?” Some people have had important losses of family or other relationships and find themselves feeling alone and bereft in the face of all the merriment. And still others feel financially stressed by the expectations of gift-giving and entertaining.
There is some controversy in the research about whether Holiday Blues actually are a significant problem. On average, people are not more sad during the holiday season, probably because for some, the goodwill and cheer of the season do make them feel good. But if you are a person who doesn’t feel that cheer, Holiday Blues may certainly be a problem.
So what can you do to help yourself through a difficult holiday season?
Practice good self-care
Eating healthfully, and not overeating at gatherings, can help. Limiting alcohol to light social drinking is also a good idea, since alcohol is a depressant. Getting plenty of sleep is important, too.
If you are overwhelmed by too many holiday activities, decide which ones will be pleasant for you and, if possible, turn down the others. If you are instead feeling isolated, think about volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, since helping others can really lift one’s spirits. If you have friends or acquaintances who might also feel isolated, think about inviting them to join you for some low-key activity– lunch or a movie are good options.
Remember it’s the thought that counts
If money around the holidays is a stressful issue, remember that it really is the thought that counts. Homemade cookies, crafts or cards can substitute for bigger gifts, or you can plan a Pollyanna party, so each person only has to purchase one gift.
Know you’re not alone
This is the most important thing to remember. The TV images are illusions, and many people ‘put on a happy face’ but may be feeling just as you do. Like everything else, this too shall pass.