I love listening to holiday music during this time of year. It gets me into the spirit and I look forward to it every time it comes around.
Sometimes I listen to the words of songs that I have heard my entire life and reflect on their significance or meaning. Just the other day, I was listening to a song that proclaimed that this is "the most wonderful time of the year." As I repeated those words in my head, I thought about how the words "most wonderful" are loaded with expectation. Expectation that the holiday season will be magical, perfect, and filled with joy. The expectation that you should be happy and jolly and merry during this time of year, and if you aren't, there is something wrong with you.
In reality, while many of us do share in some magical moments during the holiday season, it is never a perfect time, and rarely does it live up to some people's expectations of perfection. I am especially mindful of those that may be struggling during this time. Those that have lost a loved one recently, or who are going through a difficult transition or rough patch in their life. Our lives don't stop during the holidays, and the difficult things that we are struggling with can feel heavy. Some thoughts that could be going through our heads are, "I should be happy because it's the holidays, but I just feel so alone," or, "I feel so down about that recent loss I suffered that I am having trouble being excited about anything in my life right now, let alone the holidays."
So what do we do when we are having these thoughts that don't align with the expectation of a "perfect" holiday season? The first thing that you can do is to be compassionate with yourself. Understand that it is normal to have feelings of discomfort around the holiday season, and that you are not alone in this place. There is nothing wrong with feeling less than festive, and your expectations for yourself can be crafted with taking your challenges into account. It is ok to feel sad, lonely, depressed, disappointed, mournful, and any other feelings that come up. Our feelings are valid and there is nothing wrong with having them.
Once you have entered into a state of self-compassion, you can work on reflecting on your thoughts. Our thoughts drive our emotions, which in turn affect our actions. If you say to yourself, "I should be happier this time of year," try rewording the thought into, "It would be nice if I were happier this time of year, but the reality is that I am dealing with a lot of loss right now so it's understandable that I feel sad and lonely." Rewording the "SHOULD" thought into a "IT WOULD BE NICE, BUT" thought goes a long way to giving ourselves permission to feel our actual feelings.
After you have accepted your feelings and allowed them to simply be, you can take steps to nurture yourself and provide yourself comfort. We often struggle with ways in which we can help ourselves, but we so often bend over backwards to help others we care about. The key to helping ourselves can be to treat ourselves the way we would treat a friend in our same situation. Offer yourself encouragement, and give yourself permission to do the extra things that you know help you feel better. Snuggle up with a blanket on the couch and play games on your phone. Go for a walk with a friend. Take a hot shower. Buy yourself a little treat. Doing the little things for yourself that you would do for someone you love can go a long way.
Our holidays won't be perfect. They aren't meant to be. Our expectations can shift from desiring perfection to desiring compassion for ourselves. Then we are able to freely give that same compassion to others during the holiday season.
If you or someone you know is feeling down this holiday season, reach out!
Grey Fern Counseling, PLLC