The holiday season is loaded with “shoulds” and “supposed to.” Popular culture gives us specific guidelines for how the holiday season “should” or is “supposed to” make you feel. Hallmark movies will suggest what you should do if you aren’t feeling the overwhelming magical happiness of the season. This makes it easy to put yourself down for feeling disconnected from celebrating. In reality, many people do not experience joy during the holiday season.
Holidays cause many people to feel depressed because it can be depressing. Don’t be afraid to feel drained, stressed, depressed, anxious, and a myriad of other negative feelings. You don’t have to participate in the joy of the season if you don’t want to or, more importantly, don’t have the mental energy to do so.
Suffocating Holiday Expectations
Holiday joy is a manufactured sentiment used to boost consumerism. The idea that the holidays should be a time of celebration and cheer is a cultural one, not a scientific or psychological one. Expectations of forced happiness can be toxic and worsen depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms. This time of year might make you feel like you have to suppress negative emotions to manufacture exuberant cheer. However, this will cause your negative feelings to compound, making them harder to deal with when they eventually come bursting out.
10% of people struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), meaning they experience increased mental health symptoms during the winter months. Twinkling Christmas lights cannot replace the absent sunshine often responsible for SAD. So it makes sense that the holidays might not give you the pick-me-up you were hoping for. It’s important to be mindful and considerate of your negative emotions. To combat your holiday blues, allow yourself to be blue. Give yourself the emotional space to be disappointed, upset, angry, or just generally unhappy.
The Pressure to Spend Money
According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 2014 study, “respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied, and 68% [of respondents felt] financially strained.” The holiday season preaches family togetherness as more important than the value of the dollar, but how we’re taught to celebrate undermines this sentiment. You need money to celebrate the holidays; if you don’t, you’re labeled as a Scrooge or a Grinch. Special holiday food, festive decorations, and buying gifts for your friends, family, and the Secret Santa your coworker started all costs money. It is expected your spending budget will increase during the holidays regardless of whether or not you can afford it.
The pressure to spend and spend can have you feeling incompetent that you can’t afford the “necessary” holiday pleasantries. It can have you staring at your bank account, wondering where you can and can’t cut corners. This builds stress which will worsen mental health symptoms. Avoiding this type of holiday stress requires you to set boundaries. Prioritize what you do and do not want to spend money on, and be honest when people ask more of you. You don’t need to detail your financial troubles, but you can explain that you’re trying to simplify Christmas this year.
Stress From Compounding Workload
The holiday season starts after Thanksgiving and ends on New Year’s Day. While many people are able to take off during that time, the stretch of the holiday celebration is too long to be unaffected by the stressors of work. As the end of the year approaches, workloads may double because higher-ups are pressured to hit deadlines. This can make it difficult to relax and enjoy the holiday season. For some people, it’s not practical for them to take time off at all. If you are feeling crushed by your workload, you might not be able to physically, mentally, or spiritually enjoy the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you need to miss them altogether. Sometimes Santa needs to wait unit January 2nd to celebrate.
The holiday season highlights and capitalizes on togetherness, which can make you feel isolated and overwhelmed. It devalues alone time, which everyone still needs during the winter months. Don’t be ashamed of making time to spend by yourself during these busy months, and give yourself the time to unwind.
Loneliness can be both internal and external. It might feel like physical isolation from your community or an emotional disconnect from loved ones. Understanding why you feel lonely will help you take action to mitigate your loneliness. For example, you might try to participate in community holiday activities or make an effort to spend one-on-one time with loved ones to strengthen and rebuild your relationship. Most importantly, recognize that you are not alone in your loneliness. Many people feel the way you do during the holidays, and it’s okay to feel that way.
The holidays can be a difficult time of year for people struggling with substance use. The pressure and expectations of the holidays are enough to make anyone stressed. Restoration Recovery Center knows that the holiday season can be a particularly troubling time of year, and we are here to guide you as you deal with the many ups and downs of the recovery process. Our professionals can give you the tools you need to help you mitigate holiday loneliness, expectations, and stress. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, please call (888) 290-0925 to learn how we can help you achieve long-term sobriety through treatments that focus on the body, mind, and spirit.