So, I’m that introverted extrovert you hear so much about. Though most would say there’s about 5% extrovert within me. I’m that empath they speak of. The amazing listener who feels emotions on a deeper level than most. I absorb them like a sponge. So it was no surprise how after what seemed like a short conversation with one of my followers about Holiday cheer, I just couldn’t shake it off. The overall context of our “discussion”? The lack of Holiday sparkle. Decorating was just not their thing. Eyes wide open, I was now catapulted into the empath dimension. See, I don’t just listen to words spoken, or in this case, written. I can interpret the tone, and the silence. I can hear everything you don’t say in words. It’s a gift, and a curse. I know my limits. I pace myself. But I just couldn’t get this conversation out of my head. The sadness in the text as they explained the link between their childhood memories of the holidays and the reason why they don’t “go balls to the wall” Mariah Carey’ish in this season. Excuse the reference here, but Bethenny Frankel does happen to be my spirit animal. I knew I had to speak on this when I created a poll about this topic. The overwhelming response I got from people who could also relate had me stunned. So, here it goes.
Let’s begin by first expressing that Christmas hasn’t always been a happy time for us as a family either. In fact, I recall many Christmases where my mother was just going through the motions. Forcefully putting the tree up, making a big stink about finding that one toy we absolutely wanted, wrapping it and placing it under the tree. It was a joyful time for us as kids, if only simply for the sake of opening a gift or two. But kids are smart. We weren’t so easily fooled. We could feel the tension in the air. The melancholy expressions in her face. Her physicality was just different. The obvious figure missing causing a “bah humbug” feel to what should have been a joyous occasion. We knew, we just continued on “kidding.” After all, we were taught to stay out of grown folks business. But what does that do to a child? It still somehow connects those feelings to festive occasions. And so it was. Though this is a time we are normally surrounded by family, laughing, fellowshipping, dancing, eating, and such, there was always a damper. It continued this way for years. But we did what we knew best. We put on a brave face, and made the best of it. Never speaking of the unspoken. The golden rule.
When the time came to create traditions and memories for my own child, I vowed to take it to the next level. I’d celebrate every birthday and decorate to the best of my ability during the holiday season. Even when the coins were scarce at best. I scraped up the couple of dollars I could to string lights around the tree. As a kid, birthdays and holidays left much to be desired. But even for the smallest of efforts, Chuck E. Cheese, shared-birthday celebrations, or makeshift Quinceanera’s in our living room with a handful of my high school friends. Nonetheless, my mother made it happen. I wanted to “reverse the curse” so to speak. Spirit wise at least. It meant so much to me to create a childhood for him where he could live unapologetically in his innocence. With no care or concern for any “grown folks business” around him. For me, making it about him was also helping me to recover lost spirit-filled moments. Fully living in the moment of joy in the season. And certainly as I got older, the real reason for the season became all the more poignant. Jesus, was my reason. Why would I not be joyous at such a time as this?
I know not everyone has had the same experience. After all, isn’t our world a big melting pot of different people from various walks of life living and breathing through a life’s journey entirely different than our own? Yes, the holiday season is “a stereotypically cheerful time when everyone is meant to be surrounded by loved ones and enjoying every second of the season. But when someone isn’t feeling happy or cheerful, or if they can’t be near their loved ones, the apparent cheer surrounding them can make them feel even more down, and often alone with their feelings – which deepens symptoms of depression. The holiday months are spent differently by everyone, and personal circumstances play a big part in how and why someone may experience stress or sadness. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of people felt their stress levels increased during the holiday season.” https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/why-we-get-depressed-during-holidays/
Stress can be reflected in a number of different ways by each person. Physical and mental fatigue can be debilitating. There’s a need to feel pressured into living up to certain “obligations” and expectations set forth by others that you may not necessarily feel qualified to meet. The financial stressors that come with the season can also play a major role in the holiday blues. As can the thought of having to be around family that you more than likely don’t want to be around. What if (and this is quite common in some families) you’ve been abused by a family member you are forced to be around every year? Should you subject yourself to that kind of pressure? For those who have lost a loved one in this season it is especially difficult. There’s a loneliness that sets in that is hard to shake off. I get it. Believe me, I’ve been there. The feeling of disappointment of wanting to see and spend time with family when you can’t? Hard to explain. But you get through it, don’t you?
For others, “feeling sad during the winter and holiday months may also be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD) that occurs in seasonal patterns during certain months of the year.” Oh yes, that’s a thing. And never has there been more important moment to discuss this than now. As the entire world is mourning the loss of the well-known Stephen “tWitch” Boss from the Ellen Degeneres show. https://www.tmz.com/2022/12/16/dj-stephen-twitch-boss-left-suicide-note-challenges-past/
For some, the triggers are unbearable. Starting off mild in the early November months, through December, and lifts shortly after the New Year ends. Can you relate? Yet somehow there’s something about a New Year that helps us refocus. The thought of things to look forward to. A new beginning, a new start, the endless possibilities.
If you find yourself or a loved one showing signs of isolation and emotions that become more severe or crippling, it’s time to help them seek some professional help. This is very difficult for a lot of people but it’s literally a matter of life and death as this could lead down a treacherous road. Feeling down in the dumps can make anyone want to keep to themselves. But too much alone time also leaves room for an influx illogical thoughts when you have no positive guidance. The thought of the outside world frolicking in a sea of gift items, wish lists, and Christmas music can be all too much for someone in this state of depression. Yes, give them their space, respect their privacy, but check on them periodically. Let them know you’re there for them. Reaching out and finding social support can be difficult for someone in this state. So, respect when someone decides to decline an invitation. Don’t hold it against them.
Don’t sulk in the sadness for too long, remember, our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. And yes, it takes some practice to reframe one’s thinking when we’ve adapted this habit. Somehow, some way, find time for yourself. Dig deep down inside that the YOU you pray to be is worth giving a chance to. Engage in some self-care practices. You know how much I preach on self-care! This is not by chance. Go back and read “SELF CARE BEST CARE SERIES” https://issalivestyle.com/2021/03/29/be-your-own-bestie-or-your-own-enemy-living-with-anxiety/ In said piece, I share my own mental health struggles. SELF CARE SAVED ME! Developing healthy coping mechanisms and self-care practices will help ease your anxiety. Try incorporating at least 15-20 min a day in your daily routine to a self-care activity. You’ll thank me later. 😉
Now, let’s talk trauma. We know that the holidays aren’t filled with loving memories of family and friends for all of us. Those who’ve had that experience, consider yourselves truly blessed. Then pass along some of those positive vibes and blessings to others who truly need it. The‘holidays can bring up old trauma wounds that have yet to be forgotten. Trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event” that can lead to long-term reactions such as flashbacks, strained relationships, unpredictable emotions, and physical. When trauma is associated with the holidays, it can make managing symptoms especially difficult because there is an expectation for everyone to be happy during this time of year. The thought of gathering with family members during such trying times can invoke feelings of anxiety and stress.
The best way to make your holidays worthwhile is to learn to Identify Trauma Triggers. Set Boundaries and Always Remember You Have Support.’ https://discoverymood.com/blog/facing-holiday-associated-trauma/#:~:text=For%20some%20individuals%2C%20the%20holidays,such%20as%20nausea%20and%20headaches
While there are often bright spots, the unique struggles that trauma survivors can face as the year comes to a close too often overshadow them. Many of you will have to “face immediate or extended family that were the source of your trauma. Others will gather around unsupportive or toxic family/friends who don’t value your mental health or personal wellbeing. And, for many survivors, the holidays are actual anniversaries of past trauma or violence.” Let’s not forget that this time of year especially is especially difficult for people who “struggle with food, disordered eating, and/or addictions. Or those who are grappling with chronic physical health issues – most of which came as a result of their trauma, whether they realize that relationship or not. They’re going to be in pain, sick, or exhausted – wanting to engage, but unable to.” The list goes on, and we know just how hard many of you will be fighting to stay above water. Stay grounded. Using healthy coping mechanisms. Know yourself. Be kind to yourself. More on this at: https://www.beautyafterbruises.org/blog/survivingtheholidays
Be honest with yourself. Set realistic expectations and encourage your friends and family to do the same on your behalf. It’s okay to let others know where you’re having difficulties in this season. Mental telepathy, though convenient, is not practical. You’d be surprised how many people want to just rally around you and be your biggest cheerleader. By the same token, it’s important that others know if you just need some distance for mental clarity, but, HAVE A PLAN for recovery!
The Very Well Mind site does an amazing job at providing some insight in this area. They go on to express that “it’s fine to be excited about the holidays and make plans for the things you want to do. But it is also important to keep your expectations realistic and reachable.” Holiday traditions change in the same way people do. “Kids grow older, people move, and new people will become a part of your life. The key is to focus on those connections, create new traditions, and remember past holidays with fondness while still enjoying the one right in front of you.”Yes, fondness.
Think of things that you actually did like about the holiday experiences you’ve had over the years. The way your grandmother catered to you, making your favorite dishes. The fact that you were able to finally be around other younger members of the family, missing them all throughout the year but finally being all together during the holiday. The small token of love and/or appreciation someone DID show to you in those times. The things that make your heart smile. You know? The little things. “Focus on enjoying the experience and the time you get to spend with your loved ones now (the ones you choose to be around, because you do have that power) rather than on achieving a picture-perfect end result. The holidays don’t have to be perfect to be special. They don’t have to be exactly like the holidays of the past to be just as meaningful and memorable.” And that goes both ways. They don’t have to be as “awful as you remember them”. Here’s your opportunity to start afresh.https://www.verywellmind.com/holiday-blues-4771716
The Holidays are about:
- Fun, not perfection.
- Keep expectations manageable. Set realistic goals. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Remember that it’s a season of holiday sentiment, and activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.
- Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if the person chooses not to express them.
- Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up by comparing today with the “good ol’ days.”
- Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some your time to help others. (SN: Just saw a video today where Bishop T.D. Jakes expresses the same. Look for it in my social media stories) https://www.instagram.com/issalivestyle/ https://www.facebook.com/issalivestyle
- Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations. Maybe you’ll find some inspiration. 😉
- Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
- Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends, or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in while. You’d be surprised how this can be uplifting for the both of you.
- Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries! Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities. Don’t try to do it all yourself. I’m speaking to the self-proclaimed perfectionists here. More at: https://www.mhawisconsin.org/holidaystress.aspx
Nonetheless, always choose joy! We can always find plenty of reasons to be joyful. Gratitude is the seed of joy. Each morning, when I wake, and before I begin my daily meditation, I thank the Lord for the simple things. “Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe. Thank you for the gift of life.” For each day is a gift. Yes, even in our most difficult of circumstances. Each day is a new opportunity. A new chance to get it right. The possible miracle in waiting. A chance for a new bright light to shine down on your door step. A new person to cross your path that will make your days brighter than you’ve ever imagined. Not by chance, but by faith. Never give up. For each twinkling of a holiday light is a glimpse of hope into your shining future.
As always, I hope this message has encouraged you. To live your life to the best of your ability. To shine brighter each day and be your best self. Yours truly. – Lin Green
If you or someone you know is in need of a listening ear, a sounding board, a voice of reason, share the following resources:
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
- PTSD assistance to Veterans 877-717-PTSD (7873)
- The Hope Line helps students and young adults in crisis by offering sound advice and a safe place to connect via Online Chat.