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The Holidays may not be Merry & Bright - and that’s fine too!

We have these preconceived notions that the Holidays are happy, merry, bright and filled with lots of cheer and festivities, but that isn’t always the case for everyone and as we step into the holiday season it’s about time we address this issue.

The holidays can bring warm feelings with treasured memories, connection with loved ones, and meaningful traditions. Christmas is quickly approaching and as someone dealing with grief or their Mental Health declining can be are tough. It’s hard to see all of the holiday advertisements filled with happy, complete families as it gives the impression that the holidays are a time of cheer and jubilation for all, but that just isn’t the case. However, some feel, particularly this year, that these benefits are outweighed or even submerged by feelings of anxiety and stress.

The holidays are supposed to be the merriest time of the year-aren’t they? The reality however is that that’s not always the case and not for everybody. The holidays can be a stressful time those surviving and trying to cope with grief, depression or another mental illness can be even more difficult. Unhappy holidays are a reality which many people might have lived with for a long time, but this year that feeling will be heightened for many owing to the Covid19 pandemic. The pandemic has brought about a sense of loss, disappointments, and grief - both individual and collective which many of us will carry into the holiday season. For those who have never experienced this sense of low during the holiday season, it can be hard to make sense of the feeling for them and for those around them. This piece aims to also throw some light on how to cope with the realities of grim holiday seasons which many people may experience.

Respect and allow yourself to feel your feelings. The holidays can bring about a wide range of feelings. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you shouldn't be laughing. While the whole world seems to be ringing bells and singing, you are struggling, and that’s ok. Your pain doesn’t stop just because someone put up a strand of bright lights. Being surrounded with cheeriness can be stigmatizing when you don’t feel the same level of enthusiasm. The pressure to be social, happy, and present can make it difficult to speak up if you don’t feel like being any of those things. If you are living with grief, loss, trauma, or loneliness, it can be easy to compare your feelings to others, which can increase feeling lonely or sad. It’s important to remember that it’s perfectly fine to feel unhappy during the holidays and there are plenty of other people who feel the same way - you are not alone in feeling the way you are. Remember to give yourself time to express your feelings, talk, cry or journal. Ignoring or minimizing your feelings may make you feel even worse.

Honour your Grief. Grief is a part of healing, it exists because love exists. Time doesn't heal the pain associated with a loss; it's what you do with that time that matters. When we choose to experience the pain as opposed to trying to fight, deny or escape it we can benefit and gradually heal in the process. You can also look at ways to memorialize the person you've lost which could be lighting a candle, getting a special ornament, or eat your loved one's favourite food. By honouring your loved one can serve as a heart-warming reminder that although your loved one is gone, the love never dies. Through the holidays, you can also choose to create new traditions this year too. It's ok to get creative and do something a little out of the ordinary. You can also alter old traditions and make them fit better with the new phase in your life. Avoiding the pain can only prolong our anguish. Eventually, the holidays will get easier, but only if you allow yourself to experience the grief of going through them without your loved one.

Focus on yourself. As you feel your enthusiasm for life slipping, work to regain your footing by engaging in self-care. As your depression creeps into your mind, convincing you that you are unworthy of your own attention, self-care may seem frivolous to you. It may feel uncomfortable to focus on your needs first. It may feel undeserved. But devoting time to yourself may bring back glimmers of light, the sparks of joy you’ve been craving. Focussing on yourself also includes having healthy boundaries for yourself. Social events may serve as a welcome distraction or they may be a burden. If you find that they are becoming a burden, give yourself permission to skip a few things this year. It may sound and feel selfish, but it may be your key to surviving this season. Our bodies are not meant to function at a high level of stress for a long period of time. Take time for self-care: a bath, a cup of tea, a walk or deep breathing. Through this time, don’t forget to take care of your physical health as well.

Plan ahead and lower your expectations from the holidays. You may not have the energy physically or mentally to hang the lights, write the cards and bake 12 different types of cookies, and that’s ok. just focus on what you can do and what brings you true joy. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting people, that’s ok too. Let your loved ones know how you feel around the holiday season. Ensure that you have time to relax and spend some time in activities that are meaningful for you. Develop a plan in advance of how you might handle potential problems that might arise during the holiday season such as sadness, feeling alone, feeling overwhelmed. Talk about your plan with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional.

Don’t emotionally isolate yourself. If the pandemic has pushed you to social distance, know that you don’t have to emotionally distance yourself off from others. The same applies if you’re having a hard time through the holidays regardless of the pandemic. There is tremendous power in the human connection. Reach out to someone if you need to. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you're struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you're having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. Recognize that you are not the only one feeling that way and reach out to someone that will understand - this could a friend, loved one, a Mental Health professional, a support group or a helpline.

The most powerful way to quell the darkness and rediscover the light this holiday season is to hold on to hope and stay. Stay present. Stay awake. Stay hopeful. Stay engaged. Stay alive. Even as you may feel the pressure of the world bearing down on you, making your life seem unbearable, consciously choose to stay. Stay for yourself, in the hope that someday, you may see the light again. Practicing gratitude can also be a good way to help us through the holiday season. As you see the darkness closing in, know that the bleakest darkness is often followed by the brightest light - as the say, the darkest hour is always before dawn. It may be difficult to seek out hope in the midst of the numbness you feel but capture the sparks of hope you discover along the way and never let them escape. Maybe the next holiday season won’t be like this. Maybe the painful numbness you feel will be replaced by glowing warmth. Maybe next year, you will find yourself closer to the feeling of wholeness you crave. Let hope fuel your desire to stay, for this holiday season and every holiday season.

If you know someone who is grieving through the holidays, know that providing reassurance, support and comfort goes a long way. During this time of year, we are often encouraged to spend time with those dear to us. But it can be very bothersome being constantly nagged to have more “holiday cheer” or being asked things like “Where’s your holiday spirit?”. If someone has been suicidal in the past year, being reassured that the people in their life want them around can mean more than any physical gift. If we know someone has been having a hard time, it is best to reassure them of our support and also giving them meaningful compliments such as just letting them know how happy you are that they are here to be able to celebrate with you.

The holidays can be a time of great cheer and joy, but also of great sadness and reflection. For those who find the holidays a little harder to bear, please go easy on them. While they might not show it, they do often find themselves hurting. But while they are hurting, they also recognize the importance of the season and the fact that the most significant presents are not found beneath a Christmas tree, but in the little things. It is the little things that are the most significant.


Written by: Vedica Podar

December, 2020


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