There is always an uptick in depression during the holiday season. Donna Townsend, Pathways Behavioral Health Services says there are a lot of theories about why that is, but it really all boils down to one thing: it happens because it’s the holidays, and somehow, we all have it in our minds that things “should” or “shouldn’t” be whatever they are during this time of year. And that’s where we trip ourselves up.
- Things should be perfect. The meal should be cooking channel quality in its taste and appearance. The tree should be perfectly balanced and every light has to be working, every piece of tinsel hung perfectly straight. The gifts we give should be perfect. The kids should be well behaved, as should the adults. All family squabbles should be suspended. We should love all of our in-laws.
- We shouldn’t feel anything but wonderful. We shouldn’t be sad if we’ve experienced a loss this year. We shouldn’t be happy if we’ve experienced a loss this year. We shouldn’t be angry about relationships that ended. We shouldn’t have doubts, or anxiety or fear, or loneliness.
- We should be able to give our families whatever presents we want to give them. We shouldn’t have money constraints that stop that. We shouldn’t have to budget. We shouldn’t have to remember the rent or utilities or car note. We should be able to bring the whole thing together without a hitch.
Does any of that sound familiar; does all of it? If so, you’re really being unfair to yourself. We don’t have to suspend reality to celebrate the holidays. Below, Donna shares some tips for enjoying this holiday season.
Let’s talk about perfect for a minute. You know why those cooking channel meals look as good as they do? It’s because there are numerous people off camera doing the actual preparation and they cook as many versions of the dish as they need to until they get the perfect representation. That’s the one they pull out of the oven and – voila! – the perfect dish. And who knows if they really taste as good as they say they do?
Remember when you were a kid and the year the tree was bald on one side, or an entire string of lights burned out after the tree was up and the presents under it, or the cat got in the tinsel? Remember how, later, all those “disasters” turned into funny “Christmas past” stories that are told year after year? Now that you’re all grown, it’s a story – another funny story, another good story.
That’s what the season is all about: celebrating our blessings and reliving that celebration every year with the stories we create. Perfection is pretty, but really, how many times does the family reminisce about the “perfect” year? If you think about it, perfect is kind of boring: it doesn’t leave a whole lot to talk about.
This year, on top of the unrealistic expectations, we have COVID to deal with. So, this year, it’s more important than ever to take a breath and relax and enjoy the season.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Make a list – figure out what is reasonable with your budget and stick to that price. When you get tempted, remind yourself that the gift is a token of the bond you have, and that isn’t predicated on how much the gift costs. Gifts tell people we’re thinking about them and care about them. The price of a gift is only a reflection of what it means to your wallet. The gift itself is the reflection of the bond.
- Accept that you’re probably not ever going to like your whatever-in-laws. Believe it or not, that actually makes it easier to be nice to them on the occasions when you’re with them at an event. You’re not obligated to like them. You’re really only obligated to be courteous – as with any guest in your home. Holidays aren’t about day-to-day: they’re about recognizing and celebrating our bonds with each other, warts and all.
- Don’t be the ghost of Christmas Present – gluttonous and without concern for your health. If you’re on a restricted diet, adjust how you cook and remember moderation in all things. Don’t skimp on sleep either. You’re more productive when you’re well rested. Set aside some time every day to sit and do nothing, even if just for 15 minutes.
- Last, but probably most important – feel what you feel. If you’ve lost someone this year, you’re allowed to grieve the loss and still celebrate with the family and friends who are still with you. It isn’t disrespectful to their memory to enjoy time with others. Many of the things you do may be bittersweet because of the connection to your lost loved one. Allow some quiet time to reflect on what they added to your life, and what you’ve lost. Then give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, even if it means you feel OK.
It’s possible that regardless of how much care you take for yourself, this year with all it’s ups-downs-and sideways has affected you more than you’d like to admit. If that happens, you owe it to yourself to seek help from a professional.
You can call Pathways at (800) 587-3854 for an appointment. Or, if you have concerns related to COVID, call Pathways’ COVID helpline at (833) 955-2869. Help is available, and sometimes getting help is necessary. Give yourself permission to seek wellness.