It’s that time of the year again. A birthday rolls around, the winter holidays creep into our surroundings and the New Year beckons celebration of the year ahead and reflection on the year we left behind. We attend weddings, baby showers, even job promotion parties. It should be all fun and games, right? Well, not always. In fact, happy occasions don’t always create feelings of extroversion, happiness, and joy and instead leave many with feelings of anxiety, sadness, disconnection, anger, guilt, and even shame.
A survey conducted by Sesame in 2021, reported 3 out 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays and report a 50% or more increase in feelings of anxiety, depression, and financial stress. The most important message here? You are not alone.
But why do happy occasions bring up so many difficult emotions? Here are 10 situations that may impact our mental health around holidays:
- Past hurt or trauma
- Significant loss, reminder or anniversary
- Difficult life events or transitions
- Triggers related to addiction or disordered eating
- Family expectations or conflict
- Financial pressure
- Existing mental health
- Loneliness or dissatisfaction with current life
- Increased demands at work or child’s school
- Healing out of the dysfunctional family system
That last point might surprise you, but it’s important. Anxiety and sadness can increase as we heal out of an unhealthy family system or relationship. Upon returning to that stagnant environment we: (1) notice dysfunctional behaviors more; (2) feel isolated, sad, or angry at others or (3) anxious about possible negative reactions to our growth.
So how do we get through all these stressors with calm, ease, and grounding? Here are four ways that could help you find support:
Table of Contents
Validate Your Feelings
Our feelings are valid and deserve a seat at the holiday table. Instead of suppressing core emotions, like anger and sadness, which can worsen anxiety and depression, take some time to identify what you are experiencing. Name the core emotions, and listen (without judgment) to what your emotions are telling you about your needs.
Give Yourself the Gift of “No”
Saying “No” is hard when you feel the need to be the perfect guest or put others first. Acknowledging the difficulty of boundary setting is step one, but knowing your limits to how many “Yes’s” you can offer up is step 2. Try saying “Yes” to yourself. When we say “Yes” to others, we often don’t realize we might be telling ourselves “No”. Take stock in what “Yes’s” won’t drain your gas tank and which might need a boundary.
Boundaries might look like:
- Setting time limits
- Setting financial limits
- Avoiding triggering discussions
Boundaries might sound like:
- I’d like to stay at an AirBnb for the holidays so my wife and I can have some extra space
- I won’t have time to cook a pie this year. I can make boxed brownies.
- I don’t feel comfortable talking about this.
- I can’t attend your party but can meet you for dinner next week to celebrate.
Nedra Tawaab, LCSW and NYT best selling author of Setting Boundaries and Finding Peace, reminds us of the difficulty of boundary setting. She advises new boundary setters to think about the desired outcome before setting a boundary. For example, try having the goal be on practicing boundary setting vs. getting someone to respond in a desired way.
Identify Triggers with Compassion
Have a list of what might trigger you ahead of time and plan for ways to keep yourself feeling supported and safe. This might look like:
- Driving yourself
- Asking a friend to check in on you
- Breathwork / Meditation
- Reminders that holidays bring up difficult emotions
- Being gentle with yourself
Try practicing acts of self-compassion when navigating what comes up for you when exposed to your triggers. It’s helpful in the moment to remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and give yourself allowance for how you’re able to show up in these difficult moments.
Schedule Post Holiday Self Care
Special occasions can take a lot from us from emotionally to financially without always giving back. This can leave us feeling worse after. Going into a stressful event where you know you’ll feel depleted, plan for some post holiday self-care like attending a therapy session, taking some time alone, journaling, engaging in your favorite activity, or having a good cry!
Create Your Own Traditions
Setting new traditions can be deeply healing, an act of self care, and fun! Try saving one full day for tradition like a hike at your favorite spot, followed by your favorite meal, and watching one of your favorite holiday movies.
Holidays serve up a mix of emotions. It’s important to know that you are not alone and you are allowed to show up in the ways most authentic to Y-O-U. At Uplift, we have a team of therapists who can help you through any event that may be bringing up painful feelings. Reach out today!
Resources / Citations
- Nedra Tawwab Live Training – PESI – Breaking the Cycle of Unhealthy Family Relationships: Top Tools for Better Boundaries