By Nina Rubin
The holiday season is officially beginning now.
This is the time of year we are supposed to feel a million favorable things like closeness to our families, love for our significant others, happiness for cooking, cheerfulness for the snow (if you live in a cold climate), glee to attend holiday parties and thankfulness for the season.
For many people, it’s a time that also brings up loads of stress, sadness, anger, resentment or loneliness. In my Coaching practice and for the seven years I worked as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen a surge of new clients from early November to mid January. Working in both community mental health centers and in private practice, I’ve met people of all walks of life who don’t have the things and relationships that many of us take for granted.
I know people who would love to go home but there’s no home to visit. There are soldiers in the United States and abroad who can’t get time off. There are homeless people who are cold and hungry. Families who are estranged often feel shame or elevated loneliness. Stress, depression, and anxiety escalate now, and many of us are indifferent or filled with dread about this time of year.
People who are experiencing loss probably miss their loved ones even more now. Those who are experiencing relationship strife might dread the questions from nosy extended family members about their ex-significant others.
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of Thanksgiving, as a rule, while others see it as a day to stock up on calories before hitting the retail shops for Black Friday. In fact, for much of America, Thanksgiving is purely a retail holiday and not a day to reflect.
I know people who wish they could hibernate through the holidays, visit exotic locations, or even time travel and move past the six weeks from Thanksgiving to the New Year. They experience outright dismay from forced holiday cheer. Contrarily, maybe this year you’re looking forward to the holidays in a way that hasn’t occurred before.
I want to remind you it’s okay to be where you are this year.
It’s fine if you hate Thanksgiving food and have to pretend to eat your plate of food. There’s no judgment if you want to hide or travel and not do something standard for Christmas. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Christmas tree. I don’t care if you don’t light Hanukkah candles. No questions asked if you don’t go to mass. Maybe you’re a non-religious person and the meaning behind these holidays makes zero sense to you.
If you don’t have money to spend on fancy meals or large gifts (or any gifts), don’t worry. For me, your presence is plenty. Throw in a hug or smile and we are golden.
I hope you know that you’d be missed if you were not here. Please, despite the stress, know this is a hard time of year for most people. You’re not alone if you feel isolated or resentful about your obligations. My suggestion is to breathe through it and take each moment by moment, rather than thinking of the holidays as a block of six weeks.
I encourage you to do kind things for yourself, especially if you have to grit your teeth through the obligatory events. Spend extra time with a pet or take a walk outside to clear your head after the frenetic energy of shopping or eating turkey. Reach out to a close friend and catch up, no matter the amount of time that’s passed.
Lastly, if it’s at all possible, try to be grateful for something.
Though seeming counter-intuitive, a fake it till you make it attitude of gratitude can really go a long way in getting through the holiday season. Gratitude makes a lot of the icky stuff less stressful, dismal or uncomfortable. Arthur C. Brooks, contributing writer for The New York Times, asks “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”
I stumbled over this last question. At the time, I believed one should feel grateful in order to give thanks. To do anything else seemed somehow dishonest or fake—a kind of bourgeois, saccharine insincerity that one should reject. It’s best to be emotionally authentic, right?
Building the best life does not require relating to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it. In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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