Holiday Joy/Holiday Distress

Tis the season for treats, parties, gift-giving, memories…in the best cases these things can be joyful and tinged by some occasional discomfort such as guilt, anxiety, sadness, or disappointment; in the worst cases the holiday season straight up sucks.

Parties are packed with temptations for people trying to manage eating or substance abuse issues.
Community activities can be difficult to attend for someone with social anxiety.
Anyone who has gone through a life transition, from moving to a new town to losing a loved one, will experience a range of emotions while adjusting to an interruption of past traditions.
The excesses of the holiday season can be overwhelming or just plain annoying.

The list goes on and on for reasons someone might experience holiday distress. So if you find yourself feeling a bit off or irritable or down, take a step back and find solid ground. You can watch the rush of ribbons, tinsel, and “cheer” and get a better view of what could be dragging you under. Observe your reactions, physical and emotional, and pay attention to what triggers distress, or just notice that you are feeling the distress. It is a clue that you have needs that can’t be met by Santa, can only be met by you.

Taking time to take care of yourself, in the season of giving can be hard to remember to do or to feel justified in doing. And yet it is as important this time of year as any other. Take care of your needs for exercise, healthy meals, sleep, rest and relaxation, as well as other rewarding and satisfying ways you spend your time. This might mean turning down invitations to holiday activities, and that is okay.

Another reason to not participate in holiday activities is because you don’t want to. Some activities can be too emotionally painful or stressful, watch for the strain of feeling like you have to do something.  Beware of Holiday Shoulds: thoughts like “I’ll look like a scrooge if I don’t go along” or “This is the way I’ve always done it, so I need to keep doing it”. Holiday Shoulds are unrealistic expectations or myths that need busting.  If you are doing something because you think you should rather than because you believe it brings you joy, then you need to pick something else to do.

This doesn’t mean I’m advocating you live in a cave like the Grinch during the holidays, there may be times when the challenge of getting out of your comfort zone could be good for you.  Getting yourself to a holiday spirit event can cause some anxiety but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  Anxiety is a sign you need to do some extra planning and prep work: plan to go with a supportive friend, eat beforehand, bring your own drink, have some topics ready for chatting, etc.  Overcoming the fear or challenge can bring about satisfaction for the accomplishment, so push yourself when you have the resources and possibility of some genuine holiday cheer.

Whether the holidays equal happiness for you or not, keep a look out for moments of joy that can arise in unexpected ways.  Joy does not come pre-packaged and is not permanent.