It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?
Surprisingly that isn’t the case for a large number of people who actually feel increasingly depressed, lonely, and anxious around the holiday season. The societal pressure to feel all ‘holly jolly’ makes people who are already experiencing some level of distress, loss or unhappiness in their lives feel even worse. Mixed with the seasonal shift and the added stressors of extra expenses, busier schedules, poor eating & drinking habits and dysfunctional family relations, it only makes sense that our emotional and mental state would be heightened during this time.
If you’re one of the many people who struggle around this time of year, there’s a few important things you should know:
- You are not abnormal. It might seem like everyone around you is wrapped in Christmas lights and singing ‘fa-la-la’ while tap dancing in the snow, but more people are experiencing intense levels of depression, anxiety and stress at this time of year than you probably realize. People are often too proud to share the hard stuff, especially when they (like you) assume everyone around them is so full of joy, but believe me, it exists. As a therapist, I see many patients who struggle during this time of year and many who even consider taking their own lives as a means to escape it all. Despite the supposed ‘joy’ of the holiday season, there are plenty who just like you – are feeling down. You are not flawed, wrong, or a bad person for feeling this way. In fact, it’s completely normal for your emotions to be intensified now more than ever.
- You are not alone. When we feel like the people around us are happy, the last thing we want to do is burden them with our problems. But we’re actually not burdening them at all. If it is the case that they seem to feel particularly happy during this time of year, they will likely be even more eager to listen and support you. On the contrary, they might be relieved by you sharing your struggles because it gives them an opportunity to relate and share their own. When we feel depressed, we often assume the worst about the people in our lives – that they don’t care about us, that we’re a bother to them or that they couldn’t possibly understand. These are usually just defense mechanisms that we create to justify our feelings of loneliness and, ultimately, make ourselves feel worse. If you’re not comfortable reaching out to the people you know, there are plenty of therapists and support groups that can help you through this time of year.
- You are not your thoughts or feelings. One of the biggest challenges people have is separating their thoughts and feelings from themselves. They feel lonely, so they believe that they are lonely & might fail to see the ways that they’re not. They feel depressed, so they beat themselves up for it, assuming they’re flawed or a failure of some sort. They think that nobody cares about them and assume that must be true. Our thoughts & feelings are separate from ourselves. I like to think of them as clouds, just floating by, unattached to us. They exist, and they’re a part of our existence, but they don’t define who we are and what our reality is. When we can begin to separate our feelings and thoughts from our reality, our worthiness, and our identity, we can begin to heal and not feel consumed and controlled by them.
- You are not doomed. It’s often hard for people to see light at the end of the tunnel or to believe that they are capable of overcoming the intensity of their emotional and mental state. When we’re in the midst of a severe period of depression or anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily matter how much we rationalize with ourselves, remind ourselves of previous times that we worked through something similar, or use positive self-talk. We just feel stuck, frustrated, and helpless. But let me remind you of point #3, just because you feel stuck, frustrated and helpless, doesn’t mean you actually are. You might feel that way right now and it may take some time for you to feel otherwise, but chances are, if you’re reading this, you are also extremely self-aware, resilient and curious — and those things will help you through this difficult time.
If you don’t personally experience increased feelings of loneliness, depression or anxiety at this time of year, make sure you’re being mindful and aware of the people in your life who may. Reach out to your loved ones and make sure to remind them that you’re there for them. Invite them to spend time with you, but be understanding if they’d rather not. Don’t make them think they can just ‘snap out of it’ or try to guilt them into feeling better. Show them patience, kindness, love and support – even if they only let you do so from a distance.
I’m offering free, 30-minute ‘holiday healing’ sessions through the new year to help you start the process of working through the difficult emotions you may be feeling during this holiday season. Please contact me with your availability to schedule yours.